Full moon on a silver sea. Shadows throwing into sharp relief the luminous rocks. I sat in the antique rocking chair by the window, a cup of hot Postum in my hand, fascinated by the undulation of great swaths of foam on the ocean, almost fluorescent in the moonlight.
Stillness. Perfect stillness. It is a very great gift, not always available to those who would most appreciate it and would find joy in it, and often not appreciated by those who have it but are uncomfortable with it. External noise is inescapable in many places—traffic on land and in the air, sirens, horns, chain saws, loud voices and, perhaps worst of all, screaming rock music with thundering amplification which makes the very ground shudder.
I think it is possible to learn stillness—but only if it is seriously sought. God tells us, Be still, and know that I am God (Ps 46:10, NIV). In quietness and confidence shall be your strength (Is 30:15, KJV).
The stillness in which we find God is not superficial, a mere absence of fidgeting or talking. It is a deliberate and quiet attentiveness—receptive, alert, ready. I think of what Jim Elliot wrote in his journal:
Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.
— not so difficult, perhaps, for a sports fan, eyes riveted on the game. For me, however, this quietness in the presence of God, this being “all there” for Him, though I treasure it and long for it, is not easy to maintain, even in the beautiful place where I live. I am easily distracted, more so, it seems, as soon as I try to focus on God Himself and nothing else. Why should this be? I think C.S. Lewis puts his finger right on it in The Screwtape Letters, which purports to be the correspondence between Screwtape, under-secretary to the devil, and his nephew, Wormwood, instructing him in the best ways to tempt the followers of the Enemy, God:
My dear Wormwood: Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express, no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.
C.S. Lewis died in 1963. Research in noise-making has made considerable progress since then, don’t you think? To learn stillness we must resist our ancient foe, whose craft and power are great, and who is armed with cruel hate. There is One far greater who is on our side. His voice brought stillness to fierce winds and wild waves, and He will surely help us if we put ourselves firmly and determinedly in His presence—“I’m here, Lord. I’m listening.” If no word seems to be forthcoming, remember it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord, and when He gives quietness, who then can make trouble? (Lam 3:26, NIV; Jb 34:29, KJV).
Silence is one form of worship. When the seventh seal was opened (in St. John’s Revelation), there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. What would happen in our homes if we should try to prepare ourselves for those heavenly silences by having just one half-hour when there is no door slamming, no TV, no stereo or video, and a minimum of talk, in quiet voices? Wouldn’t it also be a calming thing just to practice the stillness which is the absence of motion? My father used to have us try this every now and then. Why not try a Quiet Day or even a Quiet Week without the usual noises (could anyone endure a TV-less week?). It might open vistas of the spiritual life hitherto closed, a depth of communion with the Lord impossible where there is nothing but noise. Does God seem absent? Yes, for most of us He sometimes does. Even at such a time may we not simply be still before Him, trusting that He reads the perplexity we cannot put into words?
This excerpt was originally published in the March/April 1994 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.