"Be still and know that I am God."
A few hundred yards off the Appalachian Trail in Maine there is a promontory overlooking a lake. On the far side is a clear view of Mt. Katahdin. In the evening, as the wind dies down and the lake becomes still, the sunset glow on Mt. Katahdin is reflected by the lake. The stillness of a beaver pond includes the sound of the water trickling over the sticks and mud of the dam. The call of the loon is heard more clearly in the stillness that surrounds it. Otters at play only emphasize the serenity of the evening.
The stillness of the meeting includes the sounds of an occasional fire siren, the rain outside the window, the air conditioner next door starting up, the movement of worshipers adjusting to their chairs, and late-comers entering the room. The meeting stillness includes the delight of a baby experimenting with sound in the presence of so many big people who are quiet for a change. The parents need not be anxious for the meeting’s stillness is disturbed not a whit.
In the small hours of yesterday morning, I heard the cry of a coyote rise into the stillness of the night, hover there and fade back into the stillness. It was a part of the quiet, which was undisturbed even as the coyote howled twice more before I went back to sleep.
In meeting, a voice rises out of the quiet, hovers, and returns to the stillness. Often, the speaking is the stillness continued. A yellow jacket once flew through the open window, to the consternation of some worshipers, who began to brush the insect to keep it away. As I continued to worship, I felt the tiniest breeze on my middle finger. I looked down to see the yellow jacket poised there. I was feeling the breeze from its wings. A gift.
Our grandson has a pet black rabbit that he keeps with the chickens so it will have company. One of the evening chores is to place the rabbit in its cage after it has been at large in the chicken yard. Trying to catch the rabbit doesn’t work; it’s much too quick and agile. Being still with a quiet demeanor and gentle voice works wonders. The rabbit hops over, licks at one’s ankles, and is willing to be picked up.
As I become still in meeting, I become aware of God’s presence. The presence has been there all the time, but stilling one’s mind allows awareness to come into existence. The grace of God awaits us and asks only that we accept it. Note that being still does not require any action; in fact effort causes it to disappear as the wind causes the mirror surface of the lake to vanish. Some are able to be still at the center in the midst of very active and busy lives. In their presence, we see our troubles differently and gain some of their serenity. My Quaker grandparents were such people.
For many years I thought our unprogrammed meetings for worship were based on silence. Now, I experience them as based on being still. As a youngster, keeping the body quiet was a major achievement. My attention on the honeybees flying about the window helped. In later years, the body became quiet quite easily, but that thinking machine, the mind, kept busy. Stillness was elusive.
As I settle into meeting, I notice what is disturbing my stillness and release it. Then there arises clarity as an idea, which takes shape as a message. Sometimes the message is for me and I pay attention. Occasionally, the message is to be shared with the meeting; if I am accurate in my discernment, my stillness continues as before. Silence is the outward characteristic of the meeting for worship. Being still is the inner reality we share with each other as we worship together in God’s presence.