(Originally published in Purpose Magazine, July 2015 edition)
I was driving home from a quick visit to Pennsylvania trying to make it in time for an evening concert at Eastern Mennonite University. A number of my students were performing and I wanted to be there for them. The traffic was heavy. I had to drive a bit above the speed limit, hoping not to be stopped for speeding.
In order to keep up my speed, I had to weave frantically in and out of traffic, something I normally wouldn’t do. My shoulders tensed up and I found myself gripping the steering wheel harder. I was a bundle of nerves by the time I finally arrived home. I made it in time to enjoy the concert.
Did I say “enjoy” the concert? Eventually I did, but I continually felt my body tensing up as I tried to relax and savor the beauty of Handel’s Messiah featured at the concert. The wild and furious ride from Souderton to Harrisonburg had left me physically and emotionally exhausted.
During the concert, in spite of the glorious sounds I was hearing, I had to remind myself to breathe in deeply, then breathe out slowly, and let my shoulders droop. It was like I was present physically but my soul was still somewhere on the interstate trying to catch up with the rest of me.
This is a perfect picture of the hectic lives that most of us lead. We run frantically from one activity to another, whether church, work, or play; seldom allowing time for our souls to catch up with the rest of us. We are human doings rather than human beings.
“Be still and know that I am God,” declares Psalm 46:10, reassuring us that God is in charge in spite much that causes fear. “Stand still,” Moses tells the fearful Children of Israel as the Red Sea stood between them and the pursuing Egyptian army according to Exodus 14:13. During a hectic time in his ministry, Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” Mark 6: 31.
Jesus modeled for us the need to be still. He withdrew numerous times to pray and to let his soul catch up with the rest of him (Matt. 14:13, Mk. 3:7, Lk. 15:6, Jn. 6:15). How do we follow his example?
First we need to be intentional. It has to become part of our daily routine. I try to spend 20-30 minutes on our back porch every day. Then we need a spiritual practice. Centering Prayer is the practice I frequently use (see: http://www.centeringprayer.com/ for a more comprehensive discussion on the subject).
I like to begin by breathing intentionally. I call it “sacred breathing.” I breathe in deeply saying the word “grace.” Then I breathe out slowly saying the word “gratitude.” Eventually, as my mind settles, the breathing becomes automatic and I can let go of the words. When my mind strays, I return to my word(s). My pulse slows, I can feel my blood pressure lowering, my body relaxes. I am at peace with the world and with myself. I feel a deep sense of God’s presence. My soul is open for a word from God.
When I first began this daily practice, I dreaded it. I had to force myself to do it. But as I continued the practice, and continued to experience a deep peace, I looked forward to this daily routine. I find that reserving those few minutes a day, instead of robbing me of precious time, actually make me more productive. Instead of the frantic feeling at the concert after my hectic drive home, I feel a peace and a calm. People experience me more as a non-anxious presence than a bitter, stressed-out bundle of nerves.
There are many other spiritual practices we could use. The book The Spacious Heart: Room forSpiritual Awakening, written by my sister and me, deals exclusively with this subject.
Instead of frantically driving down the highway of life without time to catch our breath, we need to deliberately find times to be still and let our souls catch up with the rest of us.