Value in Stillness

Think with me about being still. If someone asks you to be still, what is your response? Is it stop moving? Still is opposite of move. Does still include speech? Are we still if we talking? Stillness is opposite motion. We’ve established two qualities of stillness. First, still is ending physical movement and second, closing our mouths. This is not an attempt to be unpleasant. We need the plain uncluttered truth about being still. There is a third quality of stillness. To be still is to quiet our thoughts. Our minds are full of thousands of thoughts. What we’ll do next, unfinished tasks, appointments, meetings, kids activities, sports, things we want. You understand. Still our minds, but not empty them. Stillness permits our minds to become focused.

Why be still? Someone asked me recently, why are there animals on earth? One reason, we can learn from them. We have an Eastern Cottontail rabbit in our backyard. It has perfected physical stillness.DSC_0026_1895sig

The Eastern Cottontail teaches us about physical stillness. Being still for a cottontail is essential to life. When most other living things eat you, being invisible in full view equals life. Biologists have discovered that only 20% of eastern cottontail survive their first year of life, that’s 8 in 10. Few cottontails live beyond their first year. Yet being a “freezer” enables a cottontail to live longer. Stillness brings life. 

Another favorite group of “freezers” are woodpeckers. All species are shy. Wary is a superior word. Even the largest, the pileated woodpecker is constantly alert for danger. Birds and mammals model the benefit of being still, without motion. It means life for them.DSC_0056_1864sigDSC_0031_1900sig

In contrast, most humans are constantly on the move. Personal calendars are full. We tell each other we multi-task. Who are we trying to dupe? Our physical bodies are not still. With physical motion our mouths and minds are engaged. Everything is moving. Why is this a problem? Life in our culture is “on the go.” Isn’t this the way to live?

These ideas are not mine. A shepherd, who spent 24/7 with sheep, wrote these words, “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7 A shepherd’s work was watching, being still. When the shepherd was still, there was time to think. Perhaps shepherds talk to sheep, not regularly. Body still, mind still, mouth closed, what happens?

God speaks. God has put each of us on a life journey. God. I am not the director of my life journey. Debate with me, but respectfully, truthfully, you are not either. Being still in body, mouth and mind brings us to a place where we can listen. It is not mental illness. When we are still God speaks. Invisible, all-powerful, everlasting, all-knowing God can easily speak to the human soul. It is simple, a shepherd directed by God gave us the way to hear God speak. Be still. Sit down, put your lips together, ask God to speak. You’ll be surprised.  You’ll discover where the absolute power is. There is real life in stillness. Need a model? Watch a cottontail.DSC_0007_1886sig

 

Wonder Doubled

Exclamation, we know it as strong feeling. We use a mark to show it! One! is strong. Double that, does this indicate double strong feeling? What is double strong feeling? Perhaps more emotion, more passion? We know strong emotions walk with strong feelings. Perhaps they are the same. Passion found in strong feeling forms a feeling trio.

This is about strong excitement, great enthusiasm, and delight. This is about fervent emotion…doubled. To understand we will use two words: fathom and miracle. Fathom as in understand and comprehend. Miracle, the same as marvel and phenomenon.

You know there are miracles. We can find them in everywhere in nature.DSC_0073_1562sig A sunrise is an obvious place to begin. It is a phenomenon every human can witness daily on clear mornings. Astronauts aboard the International Space station witness nearly 15 sunrises in 24 hours. Because we could witness a sunrise multiple times each week, it does not seem significant. Light 8.3 minutes old streaming to earth from 93,000,000 miles distant is a marvel. Sunlight is radiant heat and bright light. Life giving vitamin D is in sunlight. Sunlight drives the entire earth process of photosynthesis. Our ability to witness a sunrise heralds a daily miracle Honestly, it is a phenomenon beyond human comprehension. This alone is double strong feeling, emotion, and passion.

Only one more example…hearts. One of my favorite birds, the Black-capped Chickadee has an astonishing heart. In daytime activity this tiny feathered dynamo has a heart rate of 2,000 beats per minute. There are three zeros after the 2. Beyond belief, 2,000 beats in 60 quick seconds. During the day it can feed constantly, not at night. How does a tiny bird survive northern climate nights where temperatures often reach -20F  (-28C)? Slow the heart rate…begin a nightly torpor, an overnight hibernation. At night a chickadee is able to slow its heart rate to 500 beats, that’s easy math 75% slower at night. Along with a vastly slower heartrate its body temperature lowers 20 degrees. Take a breath. This is unfathomable it is phenomenal in epic proportion. Make it double emotion. What makes your heart beat?

Now consider this. To put this in proper perspective we must turn to God. We read this in the Bible: “The Word of God is living, and active…”Hebrews 4:12 This truth is the foundation of the two miracles and the phenomenon they bring us, and infinitely more.

Remember what we began with, emotion, miracles, and phenomenon, doubled. In the Living Word of God, the book of Job there are two verses that read exactly the same. Word for word the same, all 12 of them.  12 words are repeated twice, a message doubled. Think about the significance of God repeating himself. Eternal, almighty, all-knowing, everywhere present God intentionally repeats this message of 12 words. Here are the words: “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Two verses, Job 5:9 AND Job 9:10  exactly the same.

When God repeats himself, listen.

Your turn, apply these words to your life now. God performs wonders and miracles, for you and no one can count them. Can you hear God shout? He’s not angry, he loves us . He reminds us twice in a dozen words. What is his greatest wonder, his most profound miracle? Jesus, the one who died for our sins. No human can fathom such love. It is the greatest exclamation the world has ever heard.DSC_0093_1404sig

Striving, Stillness, Peace

Yesterday a wordless reminder was impressed upon me. In words, it is for you today.

Three words focus our attention: striving, still, peace.

The order is important.

First striving. Synonyms for striving are struggling, trying, going all out, and my favorite: pulling out all the stops. When thinking of striving the word struggle seems most appropriate for our lives today. If circumstances and events in life do not cause struggle for us, we are adept at making life a struggle. Another description for striving comes from the term “multi-tasking.” Truthfully, no one can do two things at once. Multi-tasking is striving in disguise. Perhaps we live in the most advanced civilization in world history but we are overwhelmed with striving.

Does it matter?

In our hearts, we all know it does.

The wordless reminder was impressed upon me during a walk in a wild place yesterday. My goal: photograph something wild, exciting, something to cause you to say, “Wow!” Instead, my eyes and ears were met with stillness. Instead of “wow”, peace and quiet were given me. This place was so quiet. It was so still. It was deeply peaceful. The Psalmist reminds us of God’s instructions in Psalm 46:10 these words are written, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”DSC_0012_1536sig

Still. The opposite of striving. What if multi-tasking keeps us from living life well? What if all our striving is misdirected? The wisest man in the world once wrote these words, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?” Ecclesiastes 2:22

There is a by-product of stillness. Something good and desirable happens when we stop striving. Peace comes. Isaiah the prophet of God wrote these words many centuries ago, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3 We strive and struggle to live life, seldom allowing even a spare moment of quietness or stillness. We become focused on earthly life. In stillness we can remember the Creator of all life.

Here are those three words again. Striving, stillness and peace. Consider these words a life course adjustment. These words are for me too.

Enjoy the photos. Take some quiet deep breaths. As you view these pictures from a quiet place, stop rushing, striving. In the stillness know that God loves you. Jesus died for you. You are in the eternal hands of God.

DSC_0040_1544sigDSC_0060_1551sig

Which Way?

This may be one of life’s biggest questions. Here it is, “What is the way?” This question comes often, if not daily. Sometimes the question relates to major life decisions; to take a job, leave a job, to buy a home, or sell a home. Sometimes this question relates to interpersonal matters. Should I marry him? Should I divorce or keep trying? Which way? It is an unchanging aspect of life. From the time a child begins making choices to the time a gray head is laid to rest, humans are faced with decisions which begin with, “which way?”

You would be thrilled with me if in the next sentence you were given a formula, which if followed, would always provide the correct answer to “which way?” You know better. Life has taught you that there is no such thing. With a sigh, you resign yourself to living life knowing that in future days you will face the question, “which way?” You know that at least half the time you will choose the wrong way. Possibly some months you will find most of your “way” decisions were wrong.

There is no comfort in this. We often choose the wrong way. We suffer the consequences of our wrong way choices. Our wrong way choices bring pain to self and others. Wrong “way” choices bring regrets. Some of them last a life time. This is the opposite of comfort. It’s heartache.

But. There is a way. For the rest of your life you can walk in this way. You will still make bad choices. You will say wrong things. Mistakes you regret will still occur. However, there is a way. It is not a formula. It is not a 10-step plan to better life. It does not cost you, it is free. If it seems too easy, it’s not. This way cost someone their very life. The blood of this person spilled on the earth. No, making this way was not easy.

Isaiah, the prophet of the Bible wrote about this way. He said, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:21 (ESV) Long ago Isaiah said, “This is the way, walk in it.” Our logical question is, “What is this way you are referring to?”

The wonderful answer is found in the words of Jesus. He is the One who died for the sins of all. His blood was spilled for our sakes. Jesus plainly said, “I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father (God), except through me.” (John 14:6) The truth is, there is a way, a perfect way.  In all of our lives, there is a way…it’s Jesus. When you turn to the right, seek Jesus. If you turn to the left, seek Jesus. In big decisions, some this week-seek Jesus. Whether your job, personal relationships, or any other thing in life, the way for all of life is Jesus.DSC_0010_007sig

The sun has a “way.” As does the moon. Likewise, a river. Even a train has a way, the tracks. Humans have a perfect “way,” in Jesus. Consider these words what your ears hear behind you: Jesus is the way, walk with Him. When we choose the wrong way, Jesus calls to us, “Follow me.”  No comfort is more real for us today.DSC_0041edsigDSC_0094_028sig

Boone on Ice

His steps led him westward at first. West in the direction of the sunset. As he walked he came to the cross street that led south and east. This street edged the lake. His mind was filled with what he would do. He reminded himself to go slow. He needed to control his emotions to make good decisions. Calm thinking produced wise choices. First ice was no place for foolish thinking.

He was not only thinking about safety. He was thinking about what he would see. He remembered first ice walks with his father when he was younger. Boone smiled as he remembered the colors. He grinned at the thought of seeing the thousands of air bubbles trapped in the ice. His grin remained as these thoughts took him back to first ice last year. He thought the cracks and the impressive and connected network they made. He especially enjoyed the way cracks showed the depth of the ice. By looking down on them it was possible to see from the surface of the ice to where it met the water. Not only beautiful, they indicated how thick it was and if the ice was safe.

The last house along the lake was his point of entry to its ice. His dad knew the people who lived there. They enjoyed Boone’s enthusiasm for nature and even gave permission for him to walk on the edge of their lawn down to the lake. Boone was grateful. He reached the edge of the lake. Its ice was in front of him. He stopped there was a problem. The ice next to shore was dark. Just beyond it the ice was snow-covered. He knew from listening to both his dad and grandfather that the dark color meant liquid water had come up on the ice. The ice at the edge could be weaker. He picked a spot where the dark color was narrow. He could step out onto the snow-covered ice. He took a big step.DSC_0078_1193sig

The ice held. It did not even  crack. Boone was on ice. This was his first time alone. He turned and looked across the lake. The trees on the far shore looked dark. There were no houses on the other side. No one lived there. He wanted to walk in those woods. This wood was home to many birds. Deer lived there. There were rumors that even the tracks of a mountain lion had been seen there. A little shiver went down Boone’s spine as he stared across at the forest on the other side. He did not plan to only look. He planned to walk among the trees on that dark shore. He wanted to see and hear the birds there. He would do his own search for mountain lion tracks. He took a deep breath of the cold brisk air of early winter and turned to walk the ice near the shore. It would be safer at the edge even though it would take longer to get to the wood.DSC_0080_1195sig

The stumps of trees frozen in the ice took his mind off the adventure awaiting him in the trees. As he walked closer, he could see the tracks of an animal that had gone there before him. Because they were filled with snow, he knew the animal had been here a few days earlier. He also knew that because they were a single line of tracks that a coyote likely made them. The thought of walking where a coyote had gone before added mystery. Boone wondered what the coyote had been hunting. The last tree stump was very weathered. Its bark gone. A short branch pointed out into the lake. Boone wondered how many birds had perched on this shelf of wood just above the water. He forgot about the coyote. His eyes drifted over the surface of the stump, wind and water had smoothed the surface.DSC_0087_1199sigDSC_0093_1203sig

As he walked past the stump he saw the cattail on the shore’s edge ahead of him. They gracefully swayed in the northwest wind. Their movement and color drew him. The golden cattail stalks were a beautiful contrast to the white snow he walked on. He wondered what animals moved in and out on the ice beneath these towering aquatic plants that lined this part of the lake shore. He thought a mink would find this area interesting. Mink eat muskrats and muskrats would come to eat the cattail here.DSC_0098_1205sigDSC_0101_1207sig

While he was a bit disappointed that snow had covered the ice before he arrived. He was thankful that the white covering made walking much easier, and he reminded himself, safer. A new thought came to mind. He stopped. He realized he was missing the cracks and the air bubbles. He knelt on the snow. With his mittens, he brushed off the thin layer of snow covering the ice. It was worth the effort.DSC_0115_1213sig

His window was too small to see many cracks. But the bubbles were there. The dark color below told him liquid water was beneath the ice. Boone wondered how so many bubbles could become wrapped in the ice. He found joy in seeing bubbles in different layers of the ice. The faint blue color and the random placement of bubbles was beauty he enjoyed. While he marveled at the miracle and beauty of ice he remembered that he had not heard one crack as he walked. He relaxed a bit. The ice would hold and he would stay safe-and dry.DSC_0121_1215sig

But, he would still walk near the shore. He would not take any unwise chances. He lifted his head toward the trees standing silently on the far shore. The ice would hold him. Soon, he would walk in those dark trees. He did not know what he would see next, but he knew it would be wonderful. It was time to be moving.

(coming soon: Into the Forest)DSC_0132_1218sig

“The Lost Chord”

Once in a while do you find yourself longing for something wonderful? You cannot find words to express it. But once in a while, when you are still, when you cease and all is quiet, deep inside you feel lonesome for a wonderful you cannot identify.

 

Hidden in our souls we know, whether we vocalize it or not, we were created for eternity. That wonderful we cannot explain is our longing for heaven. In heaven there is a harmony we will never find on earth. That harmony is God, three in one. His peace is eternal harmony. His love is right, just and unending. He wraps His arms of love around us creating wonder and perfect unity. It’s heaven. Wonderful forever.

May the “Lost Chord” provide you a foretaste of what is to come. It is what we long for when we are still.

“The Lost Chord”  Adelaide Anne Proctor (1825-1864

Seated one day at the organ,

I was weary and ill at ease,

And my fingers wandered idly

Over the noisy keys.

 

I do not know what I was playing,

Or what I was dreaming then;

But I struck one chord of music,

Like the sound of a great Amen.

 

It flooded the crimson twilight,

Like the close of an angel’s psalm,

And it lay on my fevered spirit

With a touch of infinite calm.

 

It quieted pain and sorrow,

Like love overcoming strife;

It seemed the harmonious echo

From our discordant life.

 

It linked all perplexed meanings

Into one perfect peace,

And it trembled away into silence

As if it were loath to cease.

 

I have sought but I seek it vainly,

That one lost chord divine,

Which came from the soul of the organ,

And entered into mine.

 

It may be that death’s bright angel

Will speak in that chord again-

It may be that only in heaven.

I shall hear that Grand Amen.