Shut Up and Know that I Am God

If you haven’t read anything by Jonathan Merritt, you should. His book A Faith of Our Own has been extremely informative and encouraging as I’ve tried to find my place in the tradition of faith over the past few years. He just released a new book called Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, and today he’s sharing a story from that book right here: 

I’d been wondering how to begin my quest to experience God in fresh ways when my phone rang. My friend Carolyn was about to take a retreat to a Benedictine Monastery near her childhood hometown. The more she talked about this inconspicuous hermitage nestled in New Mexico’s high desert, the more intrigued I became.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert seemed the perfect starting point for my journey because it is about as different from my suburban Atlanta home as I can imagine. I envisioned orange mesas rising out of the dirt while red tailed hawks soared overhead. Additionally, a Benedictine monastery is a strange place for a Southern Baptist to search for God because I grew up thinking that Catholics weren’t actually Christians.

I interrupted Carolyn mid-sentence to declare I’d be joining her on the trip. Adventurous woman by nature, she thought it was a great idea. Less than a month later, my belly of butterflies and I boarded a plane.

I’d determined to do a silent retreat, taking a vow of quietude from the time of my arrival to departure. The monastery’s web site tempted me:

The world is immersed in a “noise culture.” People conditioned by this culture have experienced uneasiness and even fear of solitude. Here in the monastery, we hope to help you turn off the “noise” in order to tune into God. To quote Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

When modern Western Christians want to encounter God, we usually make sound. We sing or preach sermons or pray or attend a Bible study discussion to speak an “Amen.” Taking the opposite approach seemed an appropriate way to begin my spiritual quest. For sixty hours, I would refrain from speaking, taking the Psalmist’s advice to listen for God’s voice rather than talk.

When I arrived at the monastery, I knew I was in for a shock. The room reminded me of a jail cell, similar in size with cold concrete floors and walls. A handmade desk nested against the back wall under a three-foot square window, which let in the tiniest bit of moonlight. A string of rosary beads fell limp over a petite chair and a bearably soft twin bed laid underneath just enough blankets to keep a guest from catching cold. A wooden medallion on a leather band was draped atop my bed pillow with a note taped to it:

Gentle Guest: If you wish to observe a stricter silence during part or all of your time here, WEAR THIS MEDALLION. The other guests and monks will respect your desire for silence. If someone does not respect your silence, please let us know. When you leave, please leave this medallion for the next guest who may also wish to have silence.

Thank you! God bless!

“Well, friend,” I said, sizing up my new companion. “It looks like you and I are going to be spending a good bit of time together.”

Having spoken my last words, I placed the medallion around my neck and unpacked my clothes.

The next couple of days were brutal and difficult, even torturous. No wonder a saying among monastery-dwellers is, “If there’s anything you need, let us know and we’ll teach you to live without.” Crossing the boundary from the noisy world to a silent space was more startling than I expected. The transition from rush to hush is not easy. Like pulling the emergency brake on a semi-truck in full motion, my body screeched to a halt. With every step, my mind raced to fill the void. I’d say prayers in my head, but found I could only fill the space for a few seconds. I’d try to sit still but my knees would bounce, and I’d want to pace. Perhaps this whole silence thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.

But the monk’s established rhythms of prayer, meals, and chores provided me with a new perspective on scheduling my day. Time, in modern life, seems an enemy. I struggle against him, and wish to stretch him. I choke every last second out of him, and then curse him for not providing more of himself.

But in this place, time is embraced as a honored companion. He was directed and maximized. The sun rises during morning prayer, washing the altar with incense-soaked rays. It sets during evening prayer as guests ready themselves for the evening meal. At the monastery, guests learn to settle into time’s natural grooves. To move with it, rather than against it. Time is geared toward purpose, not productivity.

At the end of each day, I felt as if every moment had been properly stewarded. The day wasn’t a minute longer, but it seemed richer. The day was no longer governed by unexpected stimuli but rather prioritized rest and study, worship and work.

For sixty hours, I lived alert, listening for the divine voice. One afternoon, my feet crunched along the gravel path through the guesthouse courtyard where a charred log had been set upright and carved into a statue of a monk. His branch-hands stretched heavenward and a rope tied around his middle section served as a belt. I sat in a small chair in the log-monk’s shadow as the sun was setting, listening to the sounds of my breathing. And that’s when my heart heard it.

“Rest in me.”

I had been reading the Gospel of Matthew earlier—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”—and this seemed to echo that exhortation. I needed to stop and…

Rest.

In.

God.

For months, I’d been rushing rather than resting. As my workload increased, my spiritual and social lives were being squeezed and snipped. But God wanted me to pause. To take a spiritual and physical breather. In Him, no less. I had busied myself, trying to build a career and sustain a social life, and I was running on empty. But God reminded me that He wanted to take all that weariness and burden from me and replace it with a more trusting disposition.

I won’t write of every shared moment with God while at the monastery. Doing so would somehow violate the intimacy we enjoyed. Besides, describing with words what happens when one meets God in silence is something of an impossible feat. It can only be experienced. But these first words God spoke to my heart are hard to keep to myself.

Perhaps God had been speaking these words for weeks or months, but only now was I able to receive them. Could I have heard these words anywhere? Maybe. God can shout over noise. But being in a silent state helped me to hear, unclogging my ears. Without the raucous world around me, I could discern God’s voice. As the monks often remind their guests, “One cannot listen to the Divine while one is talking.”

Inhabitants of the modern world often fear silence and solitude. Having bathed in chaos, quiet spaces become a kind of wilderness or uncharted frontier. We run from soundlessness because it makes us most uncomfortable. That’s why the pace of the prayers often takes visitors off-guard. The monastery offers the following advice:

“When we leave the monastery, it is the outside world that seems to be rushing along too quickly. Slow down, brothers and sisters. God is not going anywhere.”

Maybe we would do well to take this advice more often. To slow down. To shut up. To listen instead of talk. Perhaps a God who is better than we imagined is waiting for us in the stillness and solitude and silence.

[ click here to buy Jesus is Better Than You Imagined ]

Shut Up and Know that I Am God

April 25, 2014 | 6 minute read

If you haven’t read anything by Jonathan Merritt, you should. His book A Faith of Our Own has been extremely informative and encouraging as I’ve tried to find my place in the tradition of faith over the past few years. He just released a new book called Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, and today he’s sharing a story from that book right here: 

I’d been wondering how to begin my quest to experience God in fresh ways when my phone rang. My friend Carolyn was about to take a retreat to a Benedictine Monastery near her childhood hometown. The more she talked about this inconspicuous hermitage nestled in New Mexico’s high desert, the more intrigued I became.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert seemed the perfect starting point for my journey because it is about as different from my suburban Atlanta home as I can imagine. I envisioned orange mesas rising out of the dirt while red tailed hawks soared overhead. Additionally, a Benedictine monastery is a strange place for a Southern Baptist to search for God because I grew up thinking that Catholics weren’t actually Christians.

I interrupted Carolyn mid-sentence to declare I’d be joining her on the trip. Adventurous woman by nature, she thought it was a great idea. Less than a month later, my belly of butterflies and I boarded a plane.

I’d determined to do a silent retreat, taking a vow of quietude from the time of my arrival to departure. The monastery’s web site tempted me:

The world is immersed in a “noise culture.” People conditioned by this culture have experienced uneasiness and even fear of solitude. Here in the monastery, we hope to help you turn off the “noise” in order to tune into God. To quote Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

When modern Western Christians want to encounter God, we usually make sound. We sing or preach sermons or pray or attend a Bible study discussion to speak an “Amen.” Taking the opposite approach seemed an appropriate way to begin my spiritual quest. For sixty hours, I would refrain from speaking, taking the Psalmist’s advice to listen for God’s voice rather than talk.

When I arrived at the monastery, I knew I was in for a shock. The room reminded me of a jail cell, similar in size with cold concrete floors and walls. A handmade desk nested against the back wall under a three-foot square window, which let in the tiniest bit of moonlight. A string of rosary beads fell limp over a petite chair and a bearably soft twin bed laid underneath just enough blankets to keep a guest from catching cold. A wooden medallion on a leather band was draped atop my bed pillow with a note taped to it:

Gentle Guest: If you wish to observe a stricter silence during part or all of your time here, WEAR THIS MEDALLION. The other guests and monks will respect your desire for silence. If someone does not respect your silence, please let us know. When you leave, please leave this medallion for the next guest who may also wish to have silence.

Thank you! God bless!

“Well, friend,” I said, sizing up my new companion. “It looks like you and I are going to be spending a good bit of time together.”

Having spoken my last words, I placed the medallion around my neck and unpacked my clothes.

The next couple of days were brutal and difficult, even torturous. No wonder a saying among monastery-dwellers is, “If there’s anything you need, let us know and we’ll teach you to live without.” Crossing the boundary from the noisy world to a silent space was more startling than I expected. The transition from rush to hush is not easy. Like pulling the emergency brake on a semi-truck in full motion, my body screeched to a halt. With every step, my mind raced to fill the void. I’d say prayers in my head, but found I could only fill the space for a few seconds. I’d try to sit still but my knees would bounce, and I’d want to pace. Perhaps this whole silence thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.

But the monk’s established rhythms of prayer, meals, and chores provided me with a new perspective on scheduling my day. Time, in modern life, seems an enemy. I struggle against him, and wish to stretch him. I choke every last second out of him, and then curse him for not providing more of himself.

But in this place, time is embraced as a honored companion. He was directed and maximized. The sun rises during morning prayer, washing the altar with incense-soaked rays. It sets during evening prayer as guests ready themselves for the evening meal. At the monastery, guests learn to settle into time’s natural grooves. To move with it, rather than against it. Time is geared toward purpose, not productivity.

At the end of each day, I felt as if every moment had been properly stewarded. The day wasn’t a minute longer, but it seemed richer. The day was no longer governed by unexpected stimuli but rather prioritized rest and study, worship and work.

For sixty hours, I lived alert, listening for the divine voice. One afternoon, my feet crunched along the gravel path through the guesthouse courtyard where a charred log had been set upright and carved into a statue of a monk. His branch-hands stretched heavenward and a rope tied around his middle section served as a belt. I sat in a small chair in the log-monk’s shadow as the sun was setting, listening to the sounds of my breathing. And that’s when my heart heard it.

“Rest in me.”

I had been reading the Gospel of Matthew earlier—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”—and this seemed to echo that exhortation. I needed to stop and…

Rest.

In.

God.

For months, I’d been rushing rather than resting. As my workload increased, my spiritual and social lives were being squeezed and snipped. But God wanted me to pause. To take a spiritual and physical breather. In Him, no less. I had busied myself, trying to build a career and sustain a social life, and I was running on empty. But God reminded me that He wanted to take all that weariness and burden from me and replace it with a more trusting disposition.

I won’t write of every shared moment with God while at the monastery. Doing so would somehow violate the intimacy we enjoyed. Besides, describing with words what happens when one meets God in silence is something of an impossible feat. It can only be experienced. But these first words God spoke to my heart are hard to keep to myself.

Perhaps God had been speaking these words for weeks or months, but only now was I able to receive them. Could I have heard these words anywhere? Maybe. God can shout over noise. But being in a silent state helped me to hear, unclogging my ears. Without the raucous world around me, I could discern God’s voice. As the monks often remind their guests, “One cannot listen to the Divine while one is talking.”

Inhabitants of the modern world often fear silence and solitude. Having bathed in chaos, quiet spaces become a kind of wilderness or uncharted frontier. We run from soundlessness because it makes us most uncomfortable. That’s why the pace of the prayers often takes visitors off-guard. The monastery offers the following advice:

“When we leave the monastery, it is the outside world that seems to be rushing along too quickly. Slow down, brothers and sisters. God is not going anywhere.”

Maybe we would do well to take this advice more often. To slow down. To shut up. To listen instead of talk. Perhaps a God who is better than we imagined is waiting for us in the stillness and solitude and silence.

[ click here to buy Jesus is Better Than You Imagined ]

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