Be still my soul…
I struggle to be still before the Lord. I struggle to hesitate, and to wait. There are so many wonderful things to say, and to do, and to read, and I am impatient to take part in them all. I want to do, say, and read everything wonderful there is in the world all at once, before I miss my fleeting chance to do so; so my soul clamours forth in restlessness.
Every time I do something rashly, though, whether it is a hasty word spoken or a post online read when I ought to be working on something else, I feel in the depths of my heart that I’ve failed God. It somehow seems as though I’ve separated myself from my Lord.
This was especially the case this past spring semester: as my academic and personal responsibilities increased, the amount of time I spent in contemplation, prayer, and stillness before God decreased. I confess that I spent too many hours on my phone, too many hours worrying, and too many hours frustrated that I was neglecting time with God rather than actually sitting at His feet. I filled moments in which I ought to have been quietly reflecting with more and more mental clamour. As a result, I was overwhelmed, overwrought, and uninspired.
Our souls need stillness. They thirst for it. Many of us yearn for the weekend, for retirement, or at least for a few moments to ourselves. We suffer physically and spiritually by allowing the noise to become unceasing in our lives: our schedules are packed with meetings, work, and school, and once we come home, we pull out our devices and continue to listen to the babel of information. Even in moments of quiet, in which we could think and pray, we often reach for something to upset the stillness.
This, at least, is the personal stumbling block I face regarding my phone and social media. I do more often than not turn to it in a moment of quietness, in which I have a brief moment to myself, or even when I want to avoid thinking about some trial in my life.
The noise and bustle of school, social life, and the world continues when I pick up my phone, and my mind becomes clogged with this noise. When my thoughts are so full of noise, it is difficult to find adequate mental capacity and inspiration to write and even to think.
This past semester, however, I mistakenly thought that the bustle of city life and the busyness of my academic obligations was to blame for my constant inner turmoil, and grew frustrated with where I lived. I would walk alone to a local cemetery to clear my mind, yearning for stillness.
I remember one day in particular—I think it was in the midst of finals—in which I began to realize that it wasn’t my outward circumstances that had thrown me into such inner unrest.
Just as the clovers were beginning to bloom, and the sun was shining beautifully through the leaves above, I walked up to a tree in the middle of the cemetery, surrounded by graves with statues of angels and the deceased themselves… and I quietly realized my smallness.
Have you ever stood alone under a willow tree much older than yourself and looked up through the crowded branches at the gentle sky, simply breathing and gazing? Or stopped while reading to savor a sentence so perfect that you felt wholly carried to somewhere entirely new, outside of time? These moments of stillness and smallness turn one to God. They come from a hidden place within.
Stillness is a posture of the heart, in a way. If I desire to be still before Jesus, I’ll find some way to do so. If I desire the world, with all of its clamor, I’ll continue to allow it to monopolize my mind. Though outward circumstances—such as living in a busy city, or being overwhelmed with schoolwork—can certainly affect one’s mental state, I can find peace anywhere, because I ought to draw it from the still, small place of my heart that looks up, childlike, to the Lord. If only I would set down my phone, and my schoolwork, and my social commitments to sit quietly before Him, I might experience that peace and stillness more often.
This is the great beauty of hesuchía (hēsyxía; ἡσυχία). Hesychía, one of the ancient Greek terms for stillness or quietness, is used in scripture to describe a manner of living pleasing to God. Derivatives of the word are used in verses such as 1 Peter 3:3-4, which says, “Do not let your adorning be external… but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet (ἡσυχίου) spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” and 1 Thessalonians 4:11, which says, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly (ἡσυχάζειν), and to mind your own affairs…”.
There is also a long tradition in the Church of deep, contemplative prayer, sometimes called Hesychasm because of the necessity of a certain stillness of soul for the practice.
Followers of Christ Jesus ought, then, to seek first the stillness and quietness of heart that comes from being at peace before Him. Still places can lend themselves to contemplation, and they inspire me personally, but I would like to continue to learn to find that inspiration from Christ within, rather than any sort of stillness without. When our souls are still, the words we speak, the things we do, and the way in which we serve others will be prudent, kind, and full of His beauty.
Thank you, my God, for stillness. Please, still my heart…
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10