Each year on Good Friday, I walk home, a trip of about 12 miles. It is my form of pilgrimage. Each journey has presented my with some spiritual gift. The gifts have at times been humbling, at times quite moving.
As I set out on this year’s walk, I was eager for the gift to present itself. Then I started getting annoyed, first at a driver who almost ran into me, then at some guy on a motorized scooter, then at a small, highly annoying dog. “Is this what I’m supposed to deal with?”, I thought, clearly annoyed if that were the agenda.
I went from there to thoughts about Taoism, recalling that the beauty of a singing canary only took on that beauty in contrast to an annoying dog and so forth. I sighed. “Oh well,” I thought. “Perhaps I’m to be reminded of my Taoist tendencies.”
I went from that into my continued struggle with God over the why of suffering. Then the gift hit me in the face. “What are you doing, Patterson? Here you are on this beautiful day with the opportunity to simply be with God and you’re making all this noise. Be quiet!” And with that came an inner stillness, filled only with the words of one of my favorite Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I had always taken that to mean essentially the same thing as AA’s “Let go and let God.” But as I walked along, I came to a new understanding. Stillness allowed me a deep sense of God’s presence.
I remembered summers ago when my son Matt and I volunteered at Camp Courageous, a summer camp for children with cancer. The children had left and, as I walked up the now empty canyon, I was struck by stillness. There was no laughter and shouting, no other people sounds. Only a few birds and the wind in pine trees. The stillness was alive and profound.
And so I came to see that becoming still allowed me an encounter with the God of my understanding that differed from meeting God through my anger. This stillness allowed God’s presence to fill me in a peaceful manner. “Be still and know that I am God” came to mean “Stop all your inner noise so that I can fill that space.” And therein lies true peace.
And lest you think that my walks are all blissful, I also had another experience of God’s sense of humor. Last year I had been enriched by an encounter with canaries. Knowing that I could not replicate that wondrous experience, I nonetheless decided to walk by that house to say hello to the canaries. Where the eaves had been an additional room had been built out. And instead of canaries singing I was met with the loud bark of a big ol’ black dog! Ah, yes, this indeed is the world we’ve been handed.
But as I walked past the now canary-less house, I found that still place was accessible, that even in a moment of annoyance and disappointment, I could return to that inner stillness, just by remembering “Be still and know that I am God.” Amen to that.
Reflection: Have you experienced stillness? how did it affect you?