The ‘Stillness’ of the Lake and the ‘Mystery’ within
In his poem of 1775 entitled ‘On The Lake’, the German writer J.W. von Goethe recalls the power of the natural world to re-engage our appetite for love and for life, ‘I draw in fresh sustenance, new blood from the untrammeled world: How gracious and generous is nature’. It is the features of the lake and its setting – the ‘wave’, the ‘rhythm’, the ‘mists’ - that compel him to question his own gloomy outlook ….’why are you so downcast?’ he probes.
The famous Christmas hymn ‘Still, Still, Still’, signifying the near arrival of Jesus’ birth, also touches on this liberating and ‘untrammeled world’ before us. ‘One can hear the falling snow. For all is hushed,’ observes the author. However, here there is no self-analysis or questioning. What follows in the words of the hymn is a simple instruction, to ‘sleep’ or to rest, to let ‘the joyous day come’ and allow ‘guardian angels’ to go about their business.
Perhaps this is the twofold capacity of a genuine stillness and silence amid the natural world. We can be unnerved by it and begin to contemplate the roots of a particular mood or emotion, and yet it can expand our hearts and minds to rest in the security and the peace of a ‘Living Presence’ at work’. It is both transformational and foundational. In a treasured stillness something seemingly needs real change from within and something is in the course of real change beyond.
This duality of stillness can serve us well. By taking the time and space to focus on our ‘being’ and our’ breathing ‘, over and above any talking or restlessness, we are creating the conditions to love and to reach a new level of integrity, to grow in relationship with vitality and with enthusiasm, closer to the natural environment and to others in their unique circumstances. We are acknowledging what we can and what we cannot do in the confines of a limited lifespan. We are simply before God. As children rooted in fresh understanding.
Over the course of this year, with all the restrictions in place, have we not become markedly more aware of nature and its uplifting potential? A regular trip to the local park or through the garden has reminded us again of patterns of stillness and silence at work. I have noticed the solitary creatures – the spider, a jay, the fox - more than ever!
The gentle breeze guided Elijah (1 Kings 19:12-13). Miriam stood alert on the banks of the River Nile (Exodus 2:4). In his ministry Jesus was never too far from ‘the Lake’. The landscape is alive with the Creator’s touch. Nature has a profound way of enlivening us and surprising us, but we must continue to seize the initiative. ‘Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher’, urges William Wordsworth. It can indeed teach us much, about humility and rest along with direction and momentum.
And furthermore, there is an important social dimension to recognize when we consider the power of stillness and of silence to refresh and to restore. In our precious moments of quiet reflection and simplicity - on Sundays, on feast days, in holy places, in our personal spaces, the spots of natural beauty we return to again and again - we remind ourselves of the utterly brilliant models of faith and love that have trod the earth’s surface before us. A parent or a friend, a saint or martyr, a lover or artist, a teacher …. those that still capture our attention and our admiration. Those who struggled, who lost, felt real disappointment and pain within the course of their lives … and yet were able to ‘centre’ themselves and their true calling in a broader context or framework, learning, coping and loving anew as they moved amidst the noise and the strife of this world.
There are countless examples of individuals, filled with a ‘living faith’, that have ‘overcome’ to reposition themselves closer to Christ in friendship, and in practice, move towards ‘their Beloved’ and who tirelessly sought out ‘the one voice … so sweet’ in an often harsh and discouraging world surrounding them.
This last year (2020) has been enormously challenging and the ‘Covid’ pandemic continues to dominate our thinking and remains high on our emotional radar. People need new space for stillness, for mystery and for wonder, to grieve and to mourn as human beings ….at a loss.. They need time to digest the events of the year and to draw on ‘inner resources’ and on an ‘outer level of trust’.
It can be particularly daunting when we reflect on the structural changes that are needed to address public health issues, injustice and poverty, greed and damage to the environment. Our own lives too need change. We become aware of that truth in the silence and we become aware of the need to slow down, to take stock and to trust. Our ‘sorrows’ are healed with the promise of meaning.
Carmelite friar Ivan Cormac Marsh is unambiguous, ‘Our lives have been overly saturated with talking that we miss meaning, we miss Mystery when not listening in silence to the voice of God in our very hearts’. Perhaps that ‘voice of God’ calls us to sprinkle the seeds of growth and hope again as we move through this Christmas and New Year period. despite obvious frustrations around this year’s celebration without family and friends .
'The Holy Star ..its vigil keeping,’ from the hymn ‘Still, Still, Still’, can perhaps become our motto for this season of Christmastide and into the coming year. We are of ‘Light’, and yet we are awaiting ‘Light’. We are stronger for it. With Elizabeth of the Trinity we ask that we may never leave 'God's radiance'.
Wishing you a very peaceful and a 'meaningful' Christmas and New Year!
From all at the AECI!