In the last podcast, I quoted Diane, the teenage girl who told her pastor that she’s finished going to church because all pastors say the same thing. They say, (A) God is good, (B) I am bad, (C) try harder. Diane said she tried it; it just doesn’t work. And she said, I’m out of here.
For our purposes, I would say Diane has the pulse of the truth. Many of us, certainly me, have the same basic movement, that same attitude that we have to resist, that is to say, the same attitude as the pastors, namely, that we can try harder on our own steam and become better. It really just doesn’t work.
So I’m going to begin this podcast asking us to listen to a different teenage girl tell of her experience of a healing presence. There’s a little background noise, but I think we can hear her voice over it. So bear with me as I get this technology to work.
I’ve been through moments of my life where I needed someone to comfort me. I needed a healing presence, and I always found it in a person, whether it was a teacher or a parent or a counselor. And each one gave it in a different way, but at the same time gave me the same presence. And sometimes all I needed was a smile, a hug, someone to listen to, someone to talk to, just someone there, to know that there was someone there with me, that can walk with me through the difficult times, that I may process my healing journey. And at the end of the road, you always find God there waiting for you. Almost like with his arms open, waiting for a hug from you, and that’s when you actually receive the healing presence.
That teenage girl, high school girl, Michelle, has much to say to us and to herself about healing presence. In this podcast, we’ll reflect together on stillness as an opening to that healing fire within so that we have something to give to others.
The way to become a healing presence is in and through Jesus Christ, a total surrender to him. I give it all to you. The way in and through Jesus Christ is through stillness. Mmm. Almost Velcro on my lips and on my mind. This is the foundational biblical message. Stillness is the basic request God makes of his people throughout the Bible. And he makes it very clearly.
In Exodus 14:14, the LORD’s request is clearly stated. Moses and the exodus from Egypt — that is, the crossing of the Red Sea — are arguably the high point of the Old Testament.
During Jesus’ time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes used Moses as their foil against Jesus. They said, “Moses gave us manna in the wilderness. What are you going to give us? Moses gave us the Torah, the law to live by. What are you going to do? We had the Passover from Moses. How are you going to save us in that way?” Moses was their man, and the Passover was their banner.
In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to leave Egypt and “go forth to an unknown place.” That’s quite a beckoning from God.
The size of the population of the Israelites was huge. We don’t know how many. Some experts claim that the size of the group led by Moses was in the hundreds of thousands. And that included cripples, old people, persons of varying abilities, pregnant women, lambs and other animals — quite a varied group to lead into the wilderness sight unseen. Moses did lead the group, and they went a while. And the book is written with great drama for us to know God’s ways.
At some point, they then come to the Red Sea. When they got there, they instantly understood that they couldn’t get across. The body of water is just too big to get us across. The scene is high drama for them and for us to learn of God’s ways. God inspired the drama to reveal to us his life, his ways, and his desires for us.
So, the Israelites get to the sea, they face the sea, and after facing the sea, then — and this is the way it’s written in the book — then they turn around to see Pharaoh and his charioteers coming upon them to kill them. Riding their horses, lances in their hands, killing attitude.
The Israelites become cynical with Moses, and they say to Moses, “What, there weren’t enough graves in Egypt to bury us? You bring us into the wilderness to die?” Moses turns to God for a directive.
Then in Exodus 14:14, God says, “The Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again. I will fight for you.” Then comes the clear directive for the Israelites to follow. This is God’s heart. God says through Moses, whom he inspired to write this, “You have only to be still.” God will do the dirty work. The Israelites have only to trust him and be still.
I would submit the Old Testament is a lengthy account of God’s people refusing to obey. They simply won’t do what God wants. Basically, they won’t be still.
Isaiah 30:15 again states it explicitly. “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel.” When the Bible has a double entry for God, when God’s speaking, it means that what follows is vitally important. Continuing to quote. “In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and trust shall be your strength.”
Then the next four words demonstrate the response of God’s people, in Isaiah. The next line says, “And you would not. You said, ‘We will ride away on our steeds,’” our horses, but we’re not going to slow down. The response of God’s people, his chosen ones, was that they would not do what he wanted; they would do what they wanted.
And in effect, that’s our response today. We say by our behaviors, “I just won’t be still. I’ll check my email and FaceBook, and I’ll go on my smartphone, and I’ll organize my day to include good things; I’ll be very busy and perhaps doing some really good things. And they’ll all be in some sense dimly, in my mind, for you, O Lord, but I will not be still. I may think I’m doing for you, but I won’t be still. I may even be overly busy with church-related work.” The net effect of not being still is being beside ourselves, out of our skin, so to speak, not in our right mind.
The only person to respond to God’s desire for stillness was Jesus, hanging silently on the cross. He did what the Israelites refused to do. He did what we often refuse to do. And in that act of supreme stillness, Jesus saved the cosmos.
We need to seek silence so we can begin to be still. We need to seek the exterior silence. As Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain said, “Unless we maintain contact with our inner depths, unless there is a still center in the midst of the storm, unless in the midst of all our activism we preserve a secret room in our heart where we can stand alone with God, we will lose all sense of direction and will be torn in pieces.”
All of us must in some measure be — have, be — hermits of the heart. Now, Nicodemus is not speaking about living in a cave. He’s talking about hermit of the heart, it’s an attitude, it’s a heartbeat, it’s a heartfelt thing. When we are silent, we can begin to heart the voice of God and the voice of others around us who are in need. Then and only then we can let the fire of Christ go through us… as he heals others through us, because it’s not us. It is not us doing good works—especially for others.
Persons young and old who come across our paths are often looking to us for a connection, for some strength from that encounter. We can be a healing presence for Michelle, the teenager we heard earlier, and others to the extent that we have something deep inside to give that in that sense is not us, it’s not our ego, it’s not ours. That special something, the love of Christ, blossoms forth from the depths of our silence.
Silence is a choice. It’s a free choice. As Bishop Kallistos Ware says, the person seeking inner stillness is “someone who has embarked upon the journey inward into his own heart; not someone who cuts himself off physically from others, but someone who ‘returns’” — re-turns — “‘into himself, shutting the door of his mind.” Solitude is a state of soul, not a matter of geographical location, and that the real desert lies within the heart.” That’s Bishop Kallistos Ware. Then this person can be available to be a healing presence for others.
Silence is a choice. I say that because sometimes we don’t see little slivers of time in which we can choose silence. One thing is sure, silence doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Poof, and it’s there. Uh-uh. Rather, the opposite happens. When we least expect it, noise can appear from nowhere. Poof, and there it is.
Here’s an example of choosing silence, from my own life. When my son Timothy was in high school, he was on the golf team and often played in tournaments. And I was his chauffeur. Sometimes the tournaments were, oh, ninety miles away. While driving, Tim would turn on the radio to his favorite music station. It wasn’t heavy metal nor exaggerated rap, but certainly not my style.
One day it dawned on me that I was being held captive by his music choices. With that dawning of awareness, I said to him, “Tim, do you know what? The radio is half mine. You listen to what you want for half the ride, and maybe I could listen to what I want for half the ride. How does that sound?”
He responded, “Oh sure, Dad, that’s fair.”
So, that was kind of established. Then on our next trip, as we got in the car, I said to him, “Tim, when would you like your half of the radio? Going to the tournament or returning?”
Like any typical teenager, he said in effect, I’ll take my jollies now, “I would like my radio station now, if you don’t mind, Dad.”
So I said sure. So going to the tournament, he’s listening to his radio. Okay.
After the tournament, we begin the drive back home. Again, Tim had finished the tournament, lots of things on his mind; we’re getting the car; we’re going to go back home; he’s a little bit tired; the time might be about 7:30 in the evening. Tim would reflexively reach for the radio and put it on. He took off his golf shoes and prepared to relax.
I would say, “Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, Tim. It’s my turn to use the radio.”
And Tim would say, “Oh, yeah, Dad, I forgot. What station would you like?”
I would simply say, “I’ll use my radio time, please, to leave the radio off.”
He’d say, “Well, okay.”
But for the next hour and a half, he squirmed restlessly in his seat; he scratched the ceiling; he put his sock-covered feet on the dashboard; he made circles on the side window; he was agitated. I love the boy, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him, really. I simply wanted some time of silence in the car.
And he endured it. And I don’t doubt that he needed that expression of restlessness in the car just to get rid of the pent-up energy, adolescent energy.
Interestingly, now that he’s an adult, he says to me, “Dad, you know what, some of the best times we had together were the drives back from golf tournaments in the car.” Well, in the car, he certainly didn’t show it. He looked like he was in pain.
Beneath the writhing exterior that he was in, in some sense, he was also in his heart enjoying the silence. It was a nice time of day. And usually we would be driving with the sun setting, gorgeous colors of the sky, and both of us were relaxed. Together we could watch the sun setting and enjoy the early evening restfulness.
I also think that Timothy learned a valuable lesson on those drives back. But although I didn’t keep the radio off to teach him a lesson, I did keep the radio off to try to retain some semblance of my sanity.
I’ll end this podcast with a quote from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who said, “The Greek Fathers set this silence, which they called hesychia, both as the starting-point and the final achievement of prayer.”
Of course, that quote and this podcast open many questions. How do we deepen our inner stillness? What are some of the tools we have? How do stillness and prayer go together? What’s the role of prayer and healing? We’ll continue to explore these questions in the next set of podcasts. Thank you.