Thursday, February 20, 2014
Reflections on an Unexciting Life: stability of mind
This is the second in a series of posts on the book shown above. This book is full of passages that have deepened my awareness of the landscape through which the path of fulfillment lies - the path that leads to God's presence. Today I want to share a passage that speaks directly to our culture. The emphases are mine:
"Benedict did not desire his monks to be anything else but 'unworldly'…He wanted them to breathe the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God rather than be the playthings of human opinion and desire. To make progress along this way, stability was of the utmost importance. This was…a solidity or steadiness of mind. It was the opposite of mobility of mind. Separation from the world is thus seen to be more a matter of working toward an evenness of life in which prayer becomes possible. It is in the avoidance of meaningless mental stimulation rather than a question of bodily location…To advance in prayer, inner quiet is needed."
Now, I am well aware that God does not require us to have a quiet spirit before He'll hear our prayers. If that were true we'd all be sunk! But this passage, for me, reminds me of how valuable quietude is. By quietude I am not referring to outward quiet, but to that stability of the soul that doesn't seek continual distractions, that is content when not engaged in activity to fill the spaces in one's life.
When I was newly married and we had recently moved to the forest to homestead, we had chickens. The Pirate could sit for long periods of time just watching them, while I would be in the house, looking for ways to be distracted from my discomfort at being a city girl in a country environment and from my own sense of inadequacy. I wished then that I had the inner peace that he had, to be able to sit quietly without feeling as though I were wasting time or that my lack of activity showed dullness of mind or that our life was too uninteresting.
Thankfully, at least in that characteristic I have grown more like my husband over the years, and I am perfectly happy now to just sit and look at chickens, to create the quiet inner environment which invites God to speak directly to my spirit. That's the part from the passage about "advancing in prayer" that my own experience confirms. Yes, God stoops close to hear us when we're surrounded by noise; He's intent on being in conversation with us. As the Catechism tells us, He is the initiator of prayer, we only respond to His tugs at our heart. But, Oh, He yearns for us to yearn for Him! How patiently He waits for us to put aside all our distractions so He can hold us tenderly!
Here is a photo of the view from our last home in Alta California, in an enchanting place called La Honda. We thought that we would live out our lives there. The deep peace that seemed to rise out of the ground; the quiet - so quiet that quail lived all around us (they like the deep country). I spent many hours just sitting, basking in the quiet. And it wasn't because we had an amazing view - we've had amazing views almost everyplace we've lived.
This was the place where I learned to be quiet enough on the inside that I could actually soak in the view. Despite going through the most painful trial of my life there; despite being without the anchor of a faith community; despite having a very challenging professional practice to run. Inner quiet isn't dependent on outer stability, or everything going smoothly. We give our attention to whatever we value, and inner quiet is the result of valuing the "air of heaven"…I want to breathe that calm, pure air that sustains me regardless of outward circumstances. Now THAT is a treasure worth seeking!