Practicing Stillness

On the other side of ecstasy lies a painful emptiness. On the other side of bitterness lies joy. Where one goes, the other must follow.

In the ecstasy of understanding lies the gnawing pain of a new frontier of ignorance.

In the agony of yearning lies the ecstasy of love.

In the ecstasy of prayer lies the agony of smallness and distance before the infinite light.

There is no sweet song that is not equally bitter, save that which is shallow and meaningless.

He formed His world from delight, and so must share in its bitterness. Until the time when darkness will shine.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

In yesterday’s morning meditation, I started to change the direction of the theme I had been addressing: one of fellowship and community. In my previous blogspot, the overarching theme I addressed was questioning my religious assumptions. I had been immersed in a One Law congregation, but a number of questions had come up as to whether or not this theology was valid in relation to the Bible and the will of God. For myself, I determined it was not, but it took a year of active and sometimes painful research, reading, and writing to come to that conclusion.

Now here I am again, questioning my assumptions.

One of the assumptions I built this current blog upon was the one that said I needed a different community of faith and that it should include my wife. As I have already said, that assumption proved to be false in part, and I’ve had to abandon it. Now, I’ve decided to accept whatever condition I am in relative to a life of faith as the one where God wants me and not try to force my wants, needs, or desires on my situation. So here I am beginning day two of “learning acceptance.”

My quote from Rabbi Freeman paints a picture of dualities. With ecstasy comes pain. With bitterness comes joy. With understanding comes ignorance. I’ve been trying to fight, and claw, and punch my way through what I saw as the barriers between me and what I thought God wanted, but like so many other religious people, I confused what I want with what God wants. Sometimes you just have to be still, and know that God is God. (Psalm 46:10) I suppose there are times to fight, but this probably isn’t one of them.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. –Matthew 5:38-42 (ESV)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. –Romans 12:18 (ESV)

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)

I used to think all of the “peace” being discussed in these lessons was invoked through supernatural means. I’ve known almost no one in the community of faith who has such a peace, at least sustained over the course of their life. Sure, I’ve seen people have a momentary calmness, but it was always possible to disrupt it given a sufficient amount of stress. Even I have had two identifiable moments in my own life when I knew God had given me a kind of peace that was absolutely amazing, as if peace were a blanket and I could just wrap myself up inside of it. And each time, it lasted about a minute.

PrayerRecently though, I’ve been told that I need to find a way to let go of the worries and the anguish over the things I can’t control and the things that, when looked at objectively, don’t really matter. I know, easier said than done. How can I tell what really matters and what doesn’t? That’s practically a full time job. And even being able to determine that, how do I stop worrying about these things?

I know what you’re thinking.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. –Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

Religious platitudes aside, this is also easier said than done. How does one operationalize “stop worrying?” Just “do it?” That’s a great advertizing slogan for Nike shoes, but it’s a little more difficult to put into day-to-day practice. Of course, some Christians out there will use this opportunity to say that I don’t have faith, as if they were wielding a blunt instrument and gleefully striking me about the head and shoulders. I suppose that might be satisfying to those folks who don’t let themselves be anxious, (or who pretend that they don’t worry so they look cool to others) but I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to me.

But let’s look at the lesson of the Master, and what was taught by the emissary Paul from another point of view. Let’s assume it’s not just a matter of faith and an effect of the supernatural. Let’s assume (yeah, I do that a lot) that it’s a matter of practice, too. In the world of psychology, it’s called cognitive restructuring or “you are what you think.” The Bible says this as well.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he… –Proverbs 23:7 (AKJV)

There are all manner of ways to learn to stop worrying over the things that don’t matter, and they all require a certain amount of practice and discipline. If I get upset over how people drive around me as I commute to and from work, it doesn’t help because I can’t control the other drivers. All that happens is I get myself worked up. If I get upset over my lack of community among the people of faith, it doesn’t help because I can’t control other people in other communities. All that happens is I get myself worked up and I write a lot of blogs. If I have no control over a situation, does worrying help? According to the Master as he taught in Matthew 6, no. As he said (v 34), “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Maybe being alone with God is not such a bad thing:

God is a refuge of strength for us, a help in distress, very accessible. –Psalm 46:2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I spent some time in the Psalms this morning and realized, in the end, all people all over the world will acknowledge God’s Sovereignty, no matter who we are or where we happen to live.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a maskil!

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted! –Psalm 47 (ESV)

Solomon, son of David, wrote of his own laments in Ecclesiastes, so I’m not the first to confront my faith with my humanity. He also provided this conclusion.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. –Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (ESV)

The prophet Micah said it like this:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (ESV)

Since this is a morning mediation, I think it’s appropriate to end this message of hope thus:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. –Psalm 118:24 (ESV)



4 thoughts on “Practicing Stillness”

  1. I will remember your everyday, but powerful example of commuting to work and allowing others’ behavior disturb your inner peace.

    We both struggle to follow three guidelines, some quoted above:

    Mat 6:34 “Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.”

    Php 4:6 Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.

    and perhaps the most difficult for me, is to move past worry to this:

    Jas 1:2 “My brothers count it all joy when you fall into various trials..”

    Great timing for me to read this topic – thanks – Joe

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