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Trinity + 11: The Still Small Voice of Calm

19 August 2007
Isaiah 5:1-7, Luke 12:49-56, Psalm 80: Who is the ruler of Israel?

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

Most of us conduct our lives like the Red Queen:
It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that! Lewis Caroll, 'Through the Looking Glass'

A hectic life is not automatically filled with more pleasure and meaning. Racing through everything can leave you wondering what you have been too busy to notice, too preoccupied to savour. But we are now in the Dog Days of August (and lest you think I got the phrase from the film starring Al Pacino, it is already there in the almanack of the 1562 Prayer Book). The hay has been stacked, factories in Europe are closed for the month, and, as even our politicians are blessedly on holiday, journalists struggle to fill the news media. For once, we have a moment to reflect:

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight, streams full of stars like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance, and watch her feet, how they can dance.
A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.
'Leisure' by William Henry Davies

The Bishop of Reading is trying to spread the message about finding God in that still small voice of calm:

A couple of years ago I was due to lead an assembly at a Church of England school that I visit regularly. This is a tough gig: seven or eight hundred adolescents, crowded into a hall first thing on a Monday morning and forced to endure a hymn, a prayer, a worthy talk and, usually, a ticking off.

On this occasion my anxiety levels were particularly high since I had not really prepared anything much to say... As I walked to the school I became all too aware that my situation was similar to driving in the fast lane of the motorway, with no petrol in the tank, and realising you've just gone past the services. But these moments of panic can also be moments of prayer, moments when we are more open to the wiles of God. And it was almost as I got up to speak that a crazy idea was suddenly born within me. I found myself saying something like this: `We live in a crazy, frantic world, full of movement and noise. Even this morning, in the few hours since you woke up, you have probably filled your time with the radio, the TV, the computer, the PlayStation; you've probably phoned someone and texted half a dozen others. As you got washed, dressed, ate your breakfast and came to school, noise and busyness have accompanied your every move.

I believe many of the world's problems are caused by our inability to sit still and to be quiet and to reflect. I believe we should try to give up being so frantic, and we should take on some moments of stillness.'Then I stopped, as if I had lost my thread (actually, it felt as if the thread were being handed to me inch by inch, and even I was not aware what was at the end). And I said to them, 'Hey, you don't know what on earth I'm talking about, so let me show you what I mean. This is what I'm suggesting you do, each day, for exactly one minute. It will change your life.'

I then picked up a chair, placed it in the centre of the stage, and slowly and carefully sat down upon it, with my feet slightly apart and with my back straight and with my hands resting gently on my knees. And, for a minute, I sat still. I didn't say anything, and I didn't do anything. I wasn't even consciously praying. I was just sitting there. And I breathed deeply, and I thought about my breathing. And when I reckoned the minute was over, I stood up. But before I could say my next bit, there was a huge, spontaneous round of applause. Now, I had done lots of assemblies in that school. On many occasions I had slaved over what I would do or say to capture the imaginations of young people. But I had never had a response like this. In fact, in the days that followed, I was stopped in the street on several occasions by parents who told me that their child had come home and told them about the priest who took assembly and just sat on the stage in silence for a minute and then suggested they might do the same thing.

Because, when the applause died down, that's what I'd said. I just suggested that sitting still, being silently attentive to things deep within ourselves and things beyond ourselves, would make a difference. You didn't need to call it prayer. You didn't need to call it anything, because it would be in these moments of sedulous stillness that God could be discovered.
Stephen Cottrell, 'Do Nothing to Change Your Life'

David Adam, the preacher, explores further these moments of 'sedulous stillness':

I weave a silence on to my lips
I weave a silence into my mind
I weave a silence within my heart
I close my ears to distractions
I close my eyes to attractions
I close my heart to temptations

Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm
Let all the tumult within me cease
Enfold me Lord in your peace.

Lord, the bible teaches us that there is a time to speak and a time to keep silence. Teach us the silence of humility, the silence of wisdom, the silence of love, the silence of perfection, the silence that speaks without words, the silence of faith. Lord, teach us to silence our own hearts that we may listen to the gentle movement of the Holy Spirit within us and sense the depths which are of God. Amen.
source unknown, 16th c.