Life Skills – Silence and Stillness (week 10)

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?)

CLOSING PRAYER

“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 wm_britton@mac.com) 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.

Life Skills (week one)**


Typical Weekly Session

*The Welcome
“Welcome to our group! We’re meeting together in order to learn practices that will inform and form our lives. (“Life Skills”) Our group intention is to cultivate an atmosphere of safety, compassion, and respect for each individual’s unique experience and contribution.”

*The Prayer
“We know you are already present to us, O God, so we ask you to enable us to be equally present to you, to each other–and to ourselves. We consent to your work in us. As we learn new practices, may we be delivered from the ‘pace, power, and priorities’ (Villodas) of our world.” (60 seconds of silence)

*Managing Expectations
This is not a Bible study or a counseling session. Our time together is as much about “unlearning” as about learning. The approach may be unfamiliar at first, so give it some time. It works!

*Suggested Guidelines
–Come to the group with an expectation of learning something new and helpful.
–Keep your sharing at the “I” level–make it personal (what you think or feel), not preachy (what you think others should think or feel). 
–Please keep the focus on your own experience.
–Resolve to practice patience and exquisite tenderness toward others.
–Stick to the topic, and avoid controversial comments.
–Refrain from commenting on, correcting, advising, or offering solutions to the person who is sharing (No “fixing.”)
–Be sensitive to how many times you share, and for how long. We may have a large group at times. Let others have their turn.
–Hold what you hear in confidence. Help us keep this a safe space for everyone.
Specific to on-line meetings:
–Mute your microphone when you’re not sharing so as not to distract others.
–Please don’t make video or audio recordings of our meetings.
–Keep your background as non-distracting as possible.
–Mute your microphone when you’re not sharing (even if you’re home alone). 

A Spiritual Exercise for this Topic (Colliers)

This will be something different each time (most weeks).

Week One: orientation and introduction to “skills/practices”

“. . . everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Jesus in Mt. 7:24, 26

[oftentimes] ” . . . Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.” Brian McClaren

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Training means arranging life around those activities that enable us to do what we cannot do now, even by extreme effort. Significant human transformation always involves training, not just trying.” Dallas Willard

“You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not [God]. You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require it nor demand it.” Annie Dillard

For discussion:

*Do any of these quotations affect you (encourage, surprise, confuse, challenge, disturb)? Can you explain your response?
*Can you pick a quote that is important to you, and attempt to explain its main message to the group?
*What would you say about a life of faith and spiritual “practices” after this discussion?

To consider for later:

If you had to explain to someone what a Christian is, what would you say?
Did your answer mostly emphasize ideas and beliefs, or behaviors?
Is your experience of the life of faith more about “trying” or “training?” Does what you’re doing seem to be working?

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**These are notes for a Life Skills discussion that starts in the evening on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. If you think you may in interested in joining this weekly discussion, please contact me at wm_britton@mac.com, and I’ll send you a link. (The discussion will be based on the book Wisdom From the Margins.)

Daily Riches: Only Stopping Will Do (A. W. Tozer, Dallas Willard)

It’s not enough to believe in silence, solitude and stillness. These things must be experienced–practiced. And practiced often enough to be routine, to create new habits–new pathways. And so I come to a full stop. I sit quietly. Nothing else. I don’t petition God. I don’t give thanks. I don’t meditate on some problem, verse or divine attribute. I don’t count my blessings. I don’t look out the window in wonder–or any number of other important things I might otherwise do. Not now. Not yet. Because, unless I can somehow first remember that it doesn’t depend on me, unless I can remember that I can’t do what needs to be done, then all is lost. And until I actually do this every day, numerous times throughout the day, there is little hope that I will ever learn to do it at all. Everything argues against stopping: the to-do list, the desire to be productive, the expectations of others, ego, habit, and so on. And therefore, ruthlessness is required in establishing new habits, new intentions, new ways of understanding my day, my life–indeed, my importance. And I do have intrinsic importance. I have the potential to be used in this world in important ways–but I squander that potential by flitting from one thing to the next without stopping to push back illusions. After all, these kenotic moments are the most important of the day. Nothing else will be so formative, and informative, for my day. 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 throughout the day. Would it be more important to take these moments to love my spouse, to feed a homeless child, to memorize Scripture or engage in worship? No, for unless I first submit to utter inactivity, I cannot trust my actual activity to be of any use to anyone–including, and especially, God. No-one needs my hurried self–the one that to me seems so indispensable–my egotistical self that sees itself at the center–as essential. Something must be done. Only stopping will do.

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.” A. W. Tozer

“He who believes will not be
in haste.”
Isaiah 28:16

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Are you “in haste?” If so, why?
  • Are you attempting to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life?” (Dallas Willard)
  • Have you established practices to insure that you stop as you should?

Abba, may my stillness release your divine action.

For More: The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer

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Thanks for following and sharing this blog! – Bill