Faith Development For All
What Does It Mean to Be A People of Stillness?
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when there are so many reasons
to be angry…
I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,
I said to breathe.
We’re going to need a lot of air
to make this hurricane together.
– Rev. Lynn Unger, from her poem Breathe
Often when stillness weaves its way into our discussions, it’s framed as a retreat strategy. A balm from the frantic and frequently wounding world. But as wise ones like Rev. Unger remind us, that’s not quite right. It’s less like a locked room that keeps all the enemies out and more like an oxygen mask that brings us back to life, that fills us with power. Stillness doesn’t simply slow our breath and energy; it fills us with it.
As Unger suggests, we don’t really want to be told to be calm these days. There is indeed so much to be angry about. So much that needs defended, resisted and restored. Which means that there’s a lot at stake in how we talk and think about stillness. A stillness that invites us simply to escape the world is dangerous. A stillness that merely anesthetizes our nerves comforts us but widens the wounds of the world. To listen deeply to our troubled times is to hear a call to challenge the view that stillness is the resting place at the bottom of the hill we’ve climbed and instead imagine it as the basecamp that launches us into the long trek up the mountain.
And alongside this vision of stillness enabling us to gather strength also sits the equally important idea of stillness as something that clarifies our perception.
One of the most powerful and heart-breaking examples of this comes from the movie Schindler’s List. In what is possibly its most famous scene, Oscar Schindler is sitting still upon his horse at the top of a hill looking down at atrocities being committed by the Nazi soldiers. Up until that moment, Schindler couldn’t see past his rationalizations. But in that still moment, which was filmed in black and white, we watch through his eyes and see one small burst of red emerging from the sea of gray. It’s a single small girl in a bright red coat. In that moment his perception is transformed and the stillness allows him to notice that which calls him back to his humanity.
So friends, stillness does this too. It allows us to perceive that which is truly precious. And in doing so, it calls us back to our humanity.
When we pause and find that sacred point of balance, that which is precious in life lights up as if in neon. The blur that usually dominates our attention fades to gray and we are able to notice that which truly deserves our focus. Our care. Our commitment. Our love.
And when we are surrounded by and connected to those precious things, a type of magic happens. We suddenly know ourselves anew. We suddenly feel at home in ourselves and the world. That sense of home can calm us or it may challenge us, but either way life comes alive again.
So home, maybe that is the true aim of this month. Maybe stillness is not an end but a means. Maybe it is not the destination but the road. The road that leads us home.