Matthew 6:5-8 (CEB)
“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to God who is present in that secret place. God who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because God knows what you need before you ask.
February 18, 2018
First Sunday in Lent
“Nurturing Times of Quiet”
Our theme for the Lenten season, which began this last week with Ash Wednesday is, “Feeding the Root: Nurturing the Spiritual Roots of our Faith.” Each week, we will think together about spiritual disciplines that will feed the roots of our faith and nurture our efforts to show and share God’s love with others.
John Wesley, our founder of Methodism, was clear that spiritual disciplines are a means of grace. The practice of spiritual disciplines does puts us in the presence of God, which can draw us closer to God and our neighbors.
We begin on this first Sunday of Lent with nurturing the roots of our faith through the discipline of quietness.
Like many of you, I have been watching the winter Olympics the last couple of weeks. The winter Olympics more so than the summer Olympics has sports that most of us do not engage in on a regular basis, if at all.
Sports like ice hockey, figure skating and curling we may have participated in at some level, but probably not many of us have jumped into a bobsled or onto a luge or skeleton sled or flipped and spun on a snowboard in what’s known as a halfpipe.
And as effortless as some of the winter sport athletes make things look, many of the winter Olympic sports are death-defying feats…literally!
I’ve been aware of the sounds and noises that surround some of the winter Olympics. Figure skaters have their routines choreographed to music, ice hockey has a lot of cheering and banging into the boards surrounding the rink, and I’ve heard a lot of cow bells being rung as athletes on skis and sleds race down the mountain at incredible speeds.
Then there is the biathlon. The Olympic biathlon combines the power and excursion of cross-country skiing with the precision and calm of marksmanship. To compete in the Olympic biathlon, athletes must cross-country ski multiple miles as fast as they can while stopping several times to shoot at saucer-size targets from 50 to 160 feet away; sometimes standing and sometimes lying on their stomachs.
During the skiing portion, a biathlete will have a heart rate somewhere between 180-200 beats per minute and then they must switch gears and quiet themselves enough to fire a steady shot at a tiny target.
The example one biathlete gives, is that it is like running up several flights of stairs as fast as you can and then trying to thread a needle.
Biathlon competitors need to actively quiet their pulse through breathing and concentration, rather than just let their heart slow on its own.
The Olympic biathlon seems like a good example to help us think about shifting from the exhausting pace of our hectic daily lives into the spiritual discipline of quietness.
Sometimes it is almost a badge of honor to say the words, “I am so busy.” It seems the busier we are, the more important is our work and life. We fill our days with meetings, deadlines, appointments, activities, meals, entertainment, and volunteering, both for ourselves and our families…And this includes within the church.
And along with our busyness comes our constant availability and connection. We have become accessible 24-hours a day. Being constantly busy, connected and available seems to have a higher priority than any form of contemplation or quietness.
The practice of quietness can make us vulnerable because we lose some control over life. Yet, in our quiet vulnerability, we can also see and sense God’s presence within us and around us.
The more roots we have grounded in quietness, the more we can know God’s transforming grace and understand as the prophet Isaiah reminds us that, “Quietness and trust shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15).
Quietness leads to trust, which heightens our awareness of God’s presence. Quietness is also a gift we give ourselves and is a way of serving God.
When we can practice quiet, even in short durations, we start to get changed from the inside out; and that is what Lent is really about—allowing ourselves to be changed from the inside out.
When we can practice quiet, our mood and mind have a better chance of settling down and we become less dependent on what is going on around us. Practicing quiet is not about withdrawing from the world, but it is about offering ourselves the gift of pausing that is less determined by the 24-hour, 7-day-a-week new cycle, and more reliant on our willingness to accept the gift. Pausing to be quiet is also a gift you can give to your family and others within community. But, like anything else, it takes willingness and intentionality.
And quietness can take many forms. Amanda shared with the children about mindfulness, which is a way of quieting and resting our bodies, minds and souls that we use in our weekly Logos ministry and that our children are learning and benefiting from at school.
The wisdom of our gospel Scripture shares about the gift of quietness through prayer. Our passage in Matthew’s gospel is part of what we have come to know as Jesus’ Sermon of the Mount. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to go into a quiet place to pray and know that God is in that place.
And if we can think less literally and more metaphorically, going to a quiet place to pray does not necessarily mean ‘saying prayers’ with words, but rather living a life of prayer in which we are drawn to that quiet place within ourselves, where we meet God.
In a Lenten devotional book, author and teacher Parker Palmer writes that, “A life of prayer is one in which we know the need to return constantly to a place removed, a place where the claims of the world can fall away and be seen for the illusions they are. This,” he says, “is the heart of prayer—the journey from illusion to truth.”
Parker Palmer goes on to say that our culture is less accepting of silence and quiet than it is constant noise and words. He says, “By creating moments of intentional silence, we smooth the way for spontaneous silence in a culture where the cessation of sound is taken as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.”
There is an African story told about three westerners in search of a village so remote they had to hire a native guide to lead them. They walk for several days, when suddenly the guide stops and sits down cross-legged and closes his eyes. After nearly a day the impatient travelers ask the guide what is causing the delay. Is he lost? The guide answers, “We have come a long distance. I need to allow time for quiet so my soul may catch up with my body.”
The Psalmist utters the same wisdom when he says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Jesus often retreated from the sheer press of human need to go off and be alone with God. There was a time in our world when periods of silence, prayer, stillness and deep conversation were common. But now, places of silence are on the endangered list.
Even in the church, we are far better at words than we are at silence or quiet. Our time in worship consists mostly of words. If we spend time in silent prayer together, people often get uncomfortable after 30 seconds. When do we allow times of quiet for our souls to catch up with our bodies?
The Psalmist’s invitation to “Be still and know that I am God,” is quickly becoming something that is counter to our culture. But in a culture and a country where unthinkable violence continues to happen, being still and knowing God, is our only lasting and steadfast truth if we hope to find peace and reconciliation for our own lives and for our life together in community.
Out of quietness will come wisdom…wisdom to know God and know God’s call for us to love God and neighbor.
For some people and in some traditions, the focus of Lent is on “giving up” something for Lent. The “something” may range from the trivial to the serious.
Growing up I had friends who would talk for weeks before Lent about what they were going to “give up.” And it always seemed like it was chocolate or desserts.
I remember coming home from school one day close to Ash Wednesday and telling my mother that I was really glad we didn’t go to the same churches as my friends, because their churches take away their chocolate and desserts for 40 days and nights…it was unheard of for me…and I must admit, it still is!
The practice of “giving something up” for Lent is intended to be a practice that makes room for God in a new way in our lives. But often, we hear folks talk about what they are giving up in a way that becomes only an endurance test to see if they can really do it, rather than about making room for God to enter into their lives in transforming ways through the giving up.
But the teachings of Jesus also include the action of “taking up” and following.
So, instead of “giving up” something for Lent, perhaps we need to reflect on things to “take up” for Lent, like quietness, stillness and silence. Even if it is only a few minutes of quiet each day, the intentional practice may just draw us deeper into God’s presence from which will come trust and wisdom.
In our fast paced, constantly connected and noisy world, quietness is something we must grow to cherish and trust.
During this season of Lent, as we look for ways to nourish our spiritual roots, I invite us to take intentional time each day to practice prayerful quiet that allows us to “be still and know that God is God.”
May nurturing times of quiet be our strength.
Thanks be to God.