February’s “From the Pastor”: The Good and Bad News about Stillness

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m writing to you from Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin once more. I traveled here in preparation for the second gathering of the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal. The agenda focuses on immersion in Benedictine spiritual practices alongside my cohort of pastors from a variety of different Christian traditions. The program continues for another year, but that year will focus on ways to participate in the life of the monastery and these spiritual practices remotely. The vision is to create a “monastery without walls” that stretches across the continent. (That means in a way, St. Peter’s becomes part of the monastery!)

An integral piece of life at the monastery is stillness, that is, actively NOT doing something. Not pulling out your phone, not jumping to the next thing on your to-do list, not running around. It’s not unlike mindfulness, which is a very hot thing right now, but not a new invention. It’s an odd sensation at first—there is so little stillness in our world—and can make you feel a little twitchy. But after you settle in, it is soothing and peaceful. It feels like a blanket that envelops you, or a chair that holds you and supports you. Being here now in winter heightens that sensation even more, as the snow drapes everything with a visual stillness.

This time, I noticed myself shifting into stillness a little early, leaving behind the “get everything done NOW” mentality I am usually in before I travel somewhere. Traveling is more interesting if you are still enough to notice the people, places and things around you. For one flight I sat next to a young man who could not stop jiggling his knee for the entire two and a half hours. He was a nice guy, but stillness was not his thing, and of course when you are sitting next to someone on an airplane in economy, their every movement touches your body somehow. Every time he fidgeted, he brushed, poked, or jiggled my side, my arm, my leg…you get the picture. (I mean no offense to those who have a habit of knee jiggling. I’m sure he wasn’t doing this on purpose.)

It got me thinking about the effect we have on the people with whom we share our lives. Maybe our own stillness, or lack thereof, has a similar effect. If you’re fidgety or anxious or doing the mental or emotional equivalent of jiggling your knee nonstop, your friends, family, co-workers, and church family are going to feel poked, brushed or jiggled as well. Human beings are way more empathetic than we realize! Our state of being affects many more people than just ourselves.

With that in mind, what if we all carved out some time for stillness? Before you laugh sarcastically and think “yeah right,” keep in mind that nobody does stillness perfectly and nobody does it all the time. But what if we carved out thirty seconds, sixty seconds, two minutes, five minutes, or even a whopping ten minutes to be present to ourselves, process what is going on outside us and inside us, and send THOSE vibes out into the world? The world already has plenty of nervous energy bouncing off its walls, energy that can magnify and twist simple interactions into things that hurt and destroy. It doesn’t need us to amplify that energy.

It is only when we pause for a moment of stillness that we are capable of remembering and really knowing that God is God, and we are not. We periodically need to re-center ourselves in this truth, which is both a wake-up call (we can’t do it all) and incredibly good news (that is God’s job, not ours).

As we head towards the beginning of Lent at the end of this month, I’m thinking about this truth for us, and trying to prepare by being still for a change and remembering who holds all of us, and all of our days, safely in His hands forever. Maybe the best preparation for this time of year is to stop trying to do it all, and focus on following Jesus, who has done it all for us and for this world that He loves so much.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie Yahns

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