A few weeks ago I entered a yoga class after a several year hiatus. This was not the death by planks class of my foolhardy younger years, but a softer, just-enough-to-feel-good variety.
As the instructor welcomed us onto our mats, welcomed us to notice our breath, welcomed us into a place of stillness and ease, I was flooded with a sudden realization.
There was no stillness inside my head.
For someone who prides herself on being self-aware, this realization was shocking. When I paused to listen, it sounded like a cross between an angry mob and a herd of elephants being charged by hyenas. How did it get so loud in there?
Invitation to stillness
A few days later I was listening to the Bible in a Year podcast where Father Mike was reading about the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. “The Lord will fight for you,” Moses told the people. “You need only to be still.”
When God starts to repeat a theme in my life, it’s usually because I’m supposed to pay attention.
I began to think more about stillness. I reflected on a common theme from a chapter in Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed, and the Kendrick Brothers’ movie, the War Room, where both protagonists shut themselves in a closet to seek themselves and God. In other words, folks about as far apart as you can get on the Christian theological spectrum were both advocating for going into your closet, shutting the door, and being still. Jesus himself even said something along those lines (Matthew 6:6).
So, in a bit of dramatic irony, I decided to take some action in order to institute some stillness into my life. I told Siri to set an alarm for seven minutes – seven seemed like a solid spiritual number – and I went into my closet and shut the door.
I spent that first seven minutes wondering what I would do if the doorknob to my closet came off in my hand when I was ready to leave. (That happened to me once in a hotel bathroom – story for another time.) Now, I take my cell phone with me and leave the door cracked just in case.
There in the mostly dark, I practice being still. I visualize handing all my messy mess over to God. “I am sitting still so that you can fight for me,” I say. I find it strangely apropos to sit next to a pile of dirty laundry while crying out to God to fight for me.
Then my alarm goes off, and I burst out of the closet like an angry water buffalo. This is how I know a bit more practice may be needed.
A second stillness practice
I am someone who moves through the world deeply. (i.e., slowly.) I am at my best when I have enough – but not too much – mental open space to process. But lately, I have not given myself that space. I listen to podcasts while I’m driving, I watch training videos over lunch, I make phone calls while I’m walking the dog.
There is no stillness in my day. Hence, there is no stillness in my head.
Seven minutes is enough to help me notice this. It’s not enough to fix it.
So I decided to carry some stillness out of my closet and into the world.
Yesterday when I walked the dog, I put my phone in my pocket. I listened to the wind rattling last year’s dried leaves. I looked at the brown grass and the hint of green underneath. I felt the damp coolness on my face.
I gave myself the gift of stillness by being present. By giving my head some space to simply be in the environment we were in.
The Lenten season is a wonderful time to practice a spiritual discipline like stillness, regular scripture reading, or a new style of prayer. A friend asked me a few days before Lent started if I was planning anything special. At the time, I didn’t have anything specific in mind, but I responded that I was open to see what might come. I was looking to see if God would answer this question for me.
Sometimes we hear the answer in the stillness. Sometimes we hear the answer is the stillness.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s Word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her two- and four-footed friends. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org