WFTM*: 1-8, 1-11, 2-25, 3-27, 3-29, 2-1, 3-7, 4-3
“Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.”
Psalm 4:4 NIV
Introduction: What We Expect of God
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind [like the wind that withered the grain and brought the locusts in Ex. 20] tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake [like Saul’s deliverance from the Philistines in 1 Sam 14], but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire [like Moses experienced at the burning bush], but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a [lit. “sheer silence.”] 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:b–13 NLT
Observation: God did not make himself known in a dramatic or anticipated (previously experienced) manner, so as to say to Elijah, “Don’t limit me or what I can do with your expectations.” Perhaps we too still expect God to “appear” only in the spectacular.
*How do you expect God to come to you? Have you ruled that out? Have you been looking in the wrong places? (Selah.)
(1) Beginning the Conversation (Notice what “grabs” you.)
“When we can stand aside from the usual and perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen. . . . Silence brings us to back to basics, to our senses, to our selves.” Gunilla Norris
“Unless I am silent I shall not hear God, and until I hear [God] I shall not come to know [God]. Silence asks me to watch and wait and listen, to be like Mary in readiness to receive the Word. If I have any respect for God I shall try to find a time, however short, for silence. Without it I have not much hope of establishing that relationship with God . . . which is going to help me root the whole of my life in prayer.” Esther de Wall
[having compared contemplative prayer to water poured into a basin] “It takes time for the water to settle. Coming to interior stillness requires waiting. . . . In solitary silence we listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls us the beloved. God speaks to the deepest strata of our souls, into our self-hatred and shame, our narcissism, and takes us through the night into the daylight of His truth . . . .” Brennan Manning
Susan Cain’s book Quiet “ . . . focuses on introverts, making the case that they have a kind of intellectual advantage. And their edge stems largely from greater amounts of solitude, from the degree to which they’ve swapped motion for stillness, chatter for calm. They’ve carved out space for reflection that’s sustained and deep. This isn’t necessarily a matter of being unplugged, of ditching the hyper-connectedness of our digital lives. It’s a matter of ditching and silencing the crowd.” Frank Bruni
*Did some phrase or idea from above catch your attention? Why did it?
*How could you more effectively “ditch and silence” the crowd?
(2) “The Evangelical Problem” (Pay attention to your emotional response.)
“I believe silence is the most challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today. It is much easier to talk about it and read about it than to actually become quiet. We are a very busy, wordy and heady faith tradition. Yet we are desperate to find ways to open ourselves to our God who is, in the end, beyond all of our human constructs and human agendas. With all of our emphasis on theology and Word, cognition and service–and as important as these are–we are starved for mystery, to know this God as one who is totally other and to experience reverence in his presence. We are starved for intimacy, to see and feel and know God in the very cells of our being. We are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.” Ruth Haley Barton
*What emotions arise as you hover over these words?
*What here seems particularly for you? . . . related to your story or experience?
(4) “The Human Problem” (Look for what applies to you.)
“It’s not enough to believe in silence, solitude and stillness. These things must be experienced and practiced, and practiced often enough to be routine, to create new habits. And so I come to a full stop. I sit quietly. I don’t petition God, give thanks, or meditate on some divine attribute. I don’t look out the window in wonder. Good things to do, but not first–not yet. Because unless I can first remember that it doesn’t depend on me, that I can’t do what needs to be done, then all is lost. And until I do this numerous times a day, every day, there’s a slim chance I’ll ever remember that. Everything argues against stopping–against remembering: the to-do list, the desire to be productive, the expectations of others, ego, habit. And therefore, ruthlessness is required in establishing this essential practice. I have the potential to be used by God in important ways–but I squander that by flitting from one thing to the next without stopping to ‘recollect’ myself. These are the most important moments of my day. Nothing else I do will be so informative–and formative. Nothing else will save me from myself. Nothing else will prepare me to attend to God and others, and to what’s going on with me. Would it be more important to take these moments to love my spouse, feed a homeless child, memorize Scripture, or engage in worship? No, for unless I first submit to utter inactivity–unless my activity flows from my practiced inactivity before God, I cannot trust that my activity will be anything but smoke and noise. No one needs my hurried self–the one that to me seems so indispensable–the one in such a rush to help. Something must be done, but first–only stopping will do.” William Britton
*Does naming this (what’s described above) a “human problem” seem fair? What would your diagnosis of yourself be in this regard, if you were to write it out?
*If you were going to work on experiencing silence and practicing stillness in the weeks to come, what would that look like? (What would the RX be for your diagnosis?)
“Heavenly Father, you do not lead us all by the same path. Here in your presence, take our yearning to speak with you and what words we have, and make of them a prayer worthy of your love for us. Lord you’ve heard the cry of our hearts and seen our deepest needs. Before we leave this gathering, we want to ask you . . . to commit each person here into your loving hands. If you have us . . . if we have you, God, we will want for nothing. You alone suffice.”
*Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day). Sometimes specific readings are recommended. In that case, 2-16 refers to the reading in the book for February 16th, etc..
If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.