If you've ever spent time high in the mountains, deep in the forest, far into one of the great deserts, or alone on the ocean, you'll know a bit of the experience I'm about to relate. Another way you could have learned of such an experience might have come from reading the writings of Christian mystics, pilgrims or monastics; anyone who has spent a lifetime of deep, persisting prayer. Or perhaps you've made it a spiritual discipline to go regularly on retreat - not the prevailing evangelical version of teaching sessions and recreation - dedicated to prayer, listening, reflection and discernment. By any of these means you might likely have encountered the stillness I did this past weekend.
Tricia and I had another opportunity to head back to the Center For Renewal in Simsbury, CT last weekend. We had the privilege of leading a woman who'd been on a number of our Listening in Christ Immersion Retreats. They've met something special to her since the first time a few years ago.
Tricia and I are not on retreat when we lead one of these; we're there to work, but invariably, Jesus has something for us as well. Often, he engages her and me when the retreatant is out for an extended time of quiet listening and prayer based on spiritual direction conversations we'd have with them over what God was doing in their times away him, as well as how he directs us to direct her. We also take the time to seek him in listening and reflection.
This time I experienced something fascinating, and to my recall, had never been as pronounced; either that, or I just didn't have the ability to notice prior. It was an abiding sense of internal spiritual stillness. By that I mean my spirit was at rest deeply while I was up and about. There was very little internal dissonance, or restlessness. I noticed I was still and very calm inside as if all was well, and all would be well. My heart and soul were quiet, even centered, or balanced with no measurable equanimity. I was there and God was present. The day's rhythm was easy and flowing without any forced effort on our parts. We certainly worked, but not rushed. Each chapter of the day unfolded quietly as if each was meant to be there and someone else was writing it.
The experience just felt good and fitting for the setting. The stillness enveloped us as a Presence: loving kind, safe and pleasant. I felt as if a gentle "atmosphere" of calm pervaded, but again. it was as if we were in the presence of Someone who knew us and gave us this time and space to soak in. Remember, it was subtle and unobtrusive, but there unmistakably.
It reminded me of the verse: "deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls" from Psalm 42, but it was more like, "deep calls to deep from the stillness of your welcoming Presence." From such interior stillness came all sorts of freedom for me to listen and hear the still, small voice of the Spirit. I recognized that living on Main Street in Northampton with it's incessant noise of community (not all bad) about us 20 hours per day never gives me the sense of being enveloped in an abiding interior stillness; an interior clanging jangle is often more like it! I know Jesus is here in Noho too, but it seems to me the CFR Retreat House, and surrounding property, if not already close to being what Celtic Christians refer to as "thin places"; places where it is believed the veil between heaven and earth is "thinner" and the presence of Spirit is palpable, is already a thin place. Because the grounds have been dedicated to listening, praying, seeking after Jesus, and healing, and the people in the church have spent many hours in prayer over the decades,or helping others do so, it feels "set apart" for such purposes and those who come for a time are met there in spiritually refreshing and revealing ways.
So I'd loved to be enveloped in such a deep and abiding interior stillness all day, every day. The reality of it transforms how I am. Also, it would serve as balm in the midst of the discord and stress I experience (some of it brought by my own brokenness). Interior stillness abiding brings consolation in which I experience and freedom, creativity, a refreshing lightness of being, and an ability to love far beyond my natural inclining. Perhaps God will grant this gift to me as I finish my days here or wherever. I'd like that very much, and would be widely grateful for such kindness and love from him.