Posted by: mmreflections | April 10, 2008

Be Still My Soul: April, 2008

 

              

I learned a great lesson from reflecting on a farmer planting a new crop.  First the earth is prepared with the clearing away of the remnants of last year’s crop.  The soil is plowed, turned over, furrowed and made ready to receive the seeds.  After the seeds are sown the farmer trusts the rest to the elements, to the work of sun, rain and nature.  While the farmer is doing his work there is much activity, noise, hustle and bustle.  Then he leaves the field after his work is done.  A great silence settles upon the earth as the seed, now buried, germinates.  Time passes and there seems to be no activity whatsoever.    Only silence prevails. Then one day a little sprout appears and the new plants begin to grow.

 The earliest periods of my life were marked with a great deal of activity from starting school to getting my first job, from leaving home for college to beginning my first career as a teacher, from serving in the military to entering the seminary to study for the priesthood.  The desire to grow spiritually and the desire to seek God’s will led me into a life of prayer and good works.  Something, however, was always missing even as my priestly ministry unfolded.  Despite my best efforts to grow spiritually, I found myself falling again and again into old bad habits, sins, and frustrations.  There seemed to be no growth in spite of my best efforts.  Old patterns continued to present themselves, failures seemed to mount and the longings for a relationship with God continued to be unrealized.  Something was missing!  I was trying to save myself and couldn’t do it.  There was no peace!  There was no joy!  All my prayers seemed to go unanswered.

 When sharing these frustrations with my mentor, my spiritual guide at the time, he suggested it was time for me to stop trying so hard and to spend more time in silence.  The question he proposed was, “Why not stop trying to save your self and let God do it?  Why not let God save you and do what you are struggling so hard to do yourself?”  On impulse and with no further discernment, I decided to head off for a silent retreat at a monastery up in the mountains away from all the distractions of city life.  I arranged to be away from the parish which I served, proudly explained to my mother who at the time was staying with me at the parish rectory that I would be away for most of the week, and excitedly set off for the much needed silence about which I was learning.  Having made a reservation at the monastery, I was quickly led to a little one room cabin with a bed, a desk and a table.  I was informed my meals would be brought to me at the designated times. With no television, no telephone, no newspapers, no people to distract me, I began my experiment with silence.  The first hour was great!  The only sounds were that of the birds singing, dogs barking in the distance, and the wind blowing through the trees.  Wow!  This was going to be great!  Almost an entire week with only this silence as my companion!  Before my first morning was over, I found myself ready to climb the walls.  Then lunch was brought for me without a word from the monk.  After about another hour of this silence, I was in my car and on my way home.  This was obviously not the silence my mentor was suggesting.

 I discovered in this short period of time that I need not run to some distant place to find silence and peace.  I also realized the real problem noise was not outside me but within my own heart and head.  Wherever I would go the internal noise would accompany me.  All the baggage from the past was still on my shoulder, all the old mental tapes were running in my head, and the anxieties and concerns about the future were continuously bombarding me.  Only a greater power could save me from all this noise.  There was much to learn about being still!

With all this background noise I began to surrender desires, mistakes, failings and longings to God, as I understood God at the time.  As I did so I began to experience a new and strange silence pursuing me, inviting me, enfolding me and telling me not to be afraid.  “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”(Psalm 34:5)  Praying in words became more difficult! Time spent in silence with a deeper awareness of the presence of the Holy One became a way of praying.  I realized I need not go off to a monastery for the blessed silence of which my mentor spoke.  After all the futile efforts and struggles to save myself, I found myself silently resting and allowing the Lord’s plans to unfold.  In that silence, much like the seed planted by the farmer, I noticed changes in my life even without my anxious efforts. In spite of all my faults and failures, I began to experience a deeper joy, peace, love and compassion for myself and for the people coming into my life.

  I was beginning to realize that much of the noise in my life was a result of mental demands and expectations based on past failures/successes or worries/anxieties about the imagined future.  I was learning to live in the here and now, the present moment, rather than in the past or the future.  Jesus’ reminder to us about staying awake and being attentive took on a new significance for me.  It became apparent that when I was unnecessarily preoccupied with the past or the future, I was falling asleep to the present moment.  I was still learning from the past and planning for the future but with the new awareness of God’s presence and guidance.  Fear, worry, anxiety, boredom, frustration, anger, resentment became reminders to me that I was again falling asleep to the presence of the Holy One in my life in the here and now moment.  Peace, joy, love, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, generosity, gratitude and patience were dominating my life when I was awake and mindful of God’s presence in my life. 

 I have come to understand that whatever the Lord has taught me was not for myself alone but was to be shared with the brothers and sisters who come into my life.  In my years of priestly ministry this was what I tried my best to do.  Those of you who have heard the homilies I had given in church were really listening to a sharing of what I was learning at the time.  Some might call it a “witness” to what God was doing in my life.  This may be the reason I always loved to teach and why I always enjoyed this aspect of priestly ministry.  Many times others related to me they were learning the same lesson or sometimes some would tell me the message I gave was exactly what they needed at that moment.  It delighted me to see how God works in each of our lives.  This is the purpose behind the writing of these reflections.

 Our daily lives are bombarded with noise, fears, worries about the economy, the war, the hunger in the world.  Many of us are living in fear, shame and guilt about the past; others are living with fear, anxiety, and worry about the future.  Still others are living with anger, resentment and a refusal to forgive those who have wounded us by their words and actions.  Perhaps we are being called to be still and know that God is with us, cares for us, knows all about our wounds, our fears, our struggles, our failures, our faults and is waiting for us to allow him to work the miracles in our lives that we need. 

“I have waited, waited for the Lord,  and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; He set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.  And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.  Many shall look on in awe and trust in the Lord.”  (Psalm 40:1-4)

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