As part of our morning pre-meditation routine, I've resumed using the daily readings drawn from John Main's work in the collection Silence and Stillness in Every Season.
I think, in practising and teaching, I've tended to emphasise the understanding of meditation as a practice of silence. But in these daily readings, I've been quite struck by John Main's emphasis on stillness as well as silence.
Speaking of our call to be wholly at God's disposition, for example, and to begin to live out of the divine energy, Main writes: 'Stillness is the way to rootedness and it focuses the challenge that faces all of us, to be rooted in our true self. To put it another way, it is the challenge to be wholly open to the gift of our own creation. Stillness helps us to be rooted in the gift that God has give us in our own being, which we learn by being still in one place' [from The Way of Unknowing]. And he speaks of 'outward stillness' being an effective sign that draws us into being wholly grounded, rooted in God.
Last week, on my Wednesday retreat, I had an experience of this efficacy of stillness. There's always a little journey to make at the beginning of retreat - from agitation to stopping, from restlessness to rest. Even if I start off in a fairly unstressed, peaceful place, there is always a little transition into the deeper rest and openness of this time. And what I noticed was that simply by sitting still, that transition started to happen. Outer stillness helped settle my spirit.
So this week, as I took myself off to the botanic gardens, I was more aware of the significance of stillness as a contemplative practice, as a form of prayer. It was a beautiful late summer morning - with just a tinge of autumn hovering - a shift in the light, a less intense heat. And what struck me was the deep rootedness of the trees in the garden - their stillness - and how their still presence was such a joy to be with and alongside.
Their stillness and my stillness led me into a sense of deep rest. 'Rest' can seem a relatively 'thin' word - signifying merely an absence, a 'not' doing or working. But the experience of this kind of deep rest is an experience of plenitude, of fullness and completion. I thought of the way in which 'rest' and fullness goes together in the Scriptures - from God 'resting' on the seventh day of creation, to the Hebrews being instructed to keep the Sabbath day holy as a day of rest unto the Lord. And I thought of Jesus teaching: 'Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'.
Rest is the gift that is there for the receiving, if we can sink into the ground of our being in God. And stillness of body, stillness of mind and spirit, is the way.