To my beautiful friend Emily,
I’ve been thinking about our conversation of a few days ago. You know. The one where we talked about how difficult it is to allow ourselves to accept God’s invitation to simply “be,” without feeling guilty that we’re not “doing.” We talked about spiritual muscles that need strengthening in order to be still, oxymoron though that may seem. Why would we need muscles to sit still and do nothing but contemplate how beautiful the world is and how much God loves us?
Believe me. It does take practice. As you begin your journey into adulthood, you’ve just begun that practice.
I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer for 37 year. Believe it or not, even after all those years of practice, I often forget how to be still. I forget that my value and identity are not tied up in what I do or accomplish, how well I do in the gifting God has called me to, or what people think of me.
The day we talked, I told you not to rush over because I was “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” as I prepared Cloudland for 3 retreatants.
When people come to Cloudland it is my deepest desire to provide space for them to meet with God. I want them to experience a sense of peace and calm and beauty. I want good smells to emanate from the kitchen, and good meals to feed the body as well as the soul.
All of this takes work. A lot of work, to be truthful. I’d had a busy weekend, so I didn’t get much done beforehand. I woke up Monday morning with four hours to prepare a beautiful, peaceful, uncluttered space in which my friends could meet with God and write what they’ve felt called to write (this was a writing retreat).
I greeted two of the retreatants at 1 pm, the third at 6 pm. I was worn out by that point in the day. I continued working in the house and yard as they settled in. We sat down to dinner together at 7 pm, by which point I was totally wiped out. I couldn’t keep track of the interesting conversation, most of which centered around writing fiction, which, as you know, is one of my passions.
I went to bed early, having written not one word at this writing retreat that I had organized.
This morning I woke up and thought, I can’t do it all. I can’t play hostess, cook, cleaner, pumpkin-mum-gourd-buyer-decorator, and write, too. I just can’t.
This thought depressed me. I took a nap.
When I got up from my rest I took a walk into the south pasture, where the wildflowers have made a spectacular come-back. Feathery pink and white cosmos waved in a brisk wind. Brilliant orange, red and yellow zinnia, each with its amazingly unique center, winked and bowed to me as I passed. Bachelor buttons peeped shyly purple out of long grass. Milkweed’s glowing white fuzz popped out of swollen seed pods. Yellow swallowtail and monarch butterflies flitted from flower to flower. The entire field danced in the wind, and the fragrance of fall hit me like a drink of the best wine on the planet.
Emily, I was overcome with a hit-me-over-the-head realization that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Simply walking Cloudland’s fields on a brilliant September day with the wind gusting and the wind chimes singing and my spirit answering in response.
Oh, the gratitude!
I am reading a book called The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. In the foreword, Richard Foster writes: “It is sad to say that much of modern Christianity is captivated by the religion of the “big deal”… “bigger is better.” Big churches, big budgets, big names—certainly this is the sign of things important. To such idolatry, de Caussade speaks with devastating precision. For him, the focus of God’s activity is not center-stage but backstage, in the insignificant moments we often cast aside. “No moment is trivial,” observes our mentor, “Since each one contains a divine Kingdom, and heavenly sustenance…Precious moment, how small in the eyes of my head and how great in those of my heart, the means whereby I receive small things from the Father who reigns in heaven! Everything that falls from there is very excellent, everything bears the mark of its maker.”
It’s here, Emily, amidst the wildflowers, that I can receive from God; that I can let go of my anxieties and concerns about what others think of me; that I can let Cloudland simply be a space provided for people to meet with God, and not let my ego get in the way of that.
I hope you find this helpful as you as you face your own unique struggles with learning to accept God’s invitation to “be still and know that I am God.”
Be patient with yourself, my friend. At 17, you are at the beginning of a journey. Don’t beat yourself up when you want to jump up the minute you have a free morning and produce, produce, produce. Yes, you have much to give the world through your music, your writing, and just by being you. Simply sit for a moment and relish the thought that God is waiting for you. The Kingdom of God is waiting to be uncovered in a small, seemingly insignificant moment.