These two words immediately call to mind a story about Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). We all know the story. Elijah goes up a mountain to converse with God and there’s an earthquake, fire, and what sounds like hurricane-type winds. Elijah looks for God in all of these things, but He’s not there. After all of these things, Elijah hears what is described as a “still, small voice.” That’s where we find God.
I feel I must give the following disclaimer: I am not good at practicing stillness. If I’m in the car, the radio is playing. If I’m at my desk – including the time spent writing this – I’m listening to iTunes. I know this isn’t the best way to live. I know we are supposed to be still, spend time in reflection and quiet prayer and have had many chances to hear it. I first met Dr. Al Rossi when I was working at the Antiochian Village during my summer break in college. He came and spent time with us during training week and taught us the importance of “more quiet prayer.” As I continued to encounter Dr. Rossi at retreats and later during classes at SVS, I found it was a constant theme. He would start and end all of his talks, retreats, workshops and classes with a few minutes of quiet prayer saying something like “let’s take a moment to sit in silence to recognize that we are in the holy presence of God.” I must admit, it was a form of torture to me.
Here’s my elaborate excuse as to why this was so torturous: hearing “be still” stirs up negative and even rebellious feelings for me. As a kid, I was often told to “sit still” in church, at school, at home, in the car…pretty much everywhere. Of course, it would only make me want to do the opposite: stand up and jump around. Now I’m almost 30 and, unfortunately, being told to sit still continues to have the same effect.
While at seminary, my father confessor suggested that I take five minutes a day to read one Psalm and then sit in stillness and quiet. The plan was to go through the entire book of Psalms then repeat it. I made it to Psalm 3. The bookmark is still there waiting for me to pick up where I left off. Why was that so difficult? What is it about stillness and silence that is so uncomfortable for me?
My thought is this: it’s often much easier to make excuses as to why we shut out God – like the somewhat elaborate one above – than it is to seek Him out. It is easier to live in our own universe than it is to endure the discomfort of sitting still and consciously quieting what often feels like monkeys jumping around inside my head. Some of this stems from fear. We fear encountering God in a real way and possibly finding out things we don’t want to find out or, more realistically, things we know to be true and don’t want to believe or follow. It is much more comfortable to stay hidden by the walls we construct than to face the reality that we are constantly falling short.
Very soon we begin the Lenten period. We must go beyond our fears and move outside our comfort zone. We need to stop fearing the “still, small voice.” We need to look for it, search it out, and, having heard, follow. Let us take this time to refocus our lives, cut through our bogus excuses and focus on being in the holy presence of God.
So, all together, “let’s end as we began and recognize that right here, right now, we are in the holy presence of God.”
Greg Abdalah (SVOTS ’08) is the Director of Youth and Family Ministries at St. George Cathedral in Worcester, MA. He graduated from SVOTS in 2008 with a Master of Divinity and currently sits on the SVOTS Alumni Board.