Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Quiet Way and the Quiet Place

In the holy gospels of the New Testament of the Holy Bible we meet the disciples of Jesus, His friends, the people who devote their lives to following Him in order to learn from Him. They didn’t learn only from His teaching but by being close to Him, looking at Him, noticing how He treated people, listening to His voice and noticing how He spoke to people. They loved Him, where He was they wanted to be, they wanted to stay with Him and be like Him.

I feel the same as those disciples. Just in the same way they ran away when Jesus was arrested and tortured and put to death, pretending they did not know Him, so I think I would not be brave enough to do as He asked and accept the cross if I want to be like Him and follow Him. I do not feel brave enough for that. Just in the same way the disciples often argued about trivial matters, squabbling among themselves, or like Martha irritated with Mary because she wouldn’t come and help out with the meal preparation when there was such a rush on to get everything ready, so I am little-minded and preoccupied with things that don’t really matter, focusing on the mundane and the everyday when I might have chosen instead to pay attention to the great things of the Spirit.

One time Jesus said to His disciples:
Come ye apart into a Quiet Place and rest awhile (Mark 6:31)

So they went with Him and made their way to a Quiet Place.

In the story, they need some space because they are so rushed and pressed by the demands of ministry, besieged continually by people in urgent need. The time out is necessary because they have no space to eat or pray or regroup their energies. It’s a practical measure.

Sometimes of course we need exactly that same thing: time out because the pace of life has become more frantic than anyone could handle without stepping off the treadmill every now and then.

But having acknowledged that Jesus was dealing with a practical issue, I would like to share some thoughts that came to mind from reading those words.

Come ye apart into a Quiet Place and rest awhile… (Mark 6:31)
…ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord… (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)

That quotation from 1 Corinthians comes from a section where Paul is advising people of faith, who aspire to a holy life, not to become entangled in the ways of the World.

I think the kingdom of Mammon has spread insidiously like a slime mould to create an astonishingly widespread infiltration of the fabric of society; and my heart witnesses with these words of Paul that we should consciously separate ourselves from that sprawling kingdom of Mammon, for, as Jesus said (Matthew 6:24), Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (and Mammon has no friends or acquaintances, only enemies and servants).

So I think that the call of Jesus to come apart to a Quiet Place can be a daily spiritual imperative as well as a practical respite.

In looking at His words in this way, I am not thinking at all that we should aim for a passive or complacent life: dull, unengaged, under-occupied and easy. That’s not what I mean. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard, nor that we should shun our neighbours and members of our family.

What I mean is this. Walking in the Quiet Way means taking another path than the mainstream, choosing a badger track through a field rather than the motorway. It means consciously choosing the way of unregarded littleness and humility, the path of gelassenheit in which we are content to be lowly and of no account, eschewing status and celebrity (not that most of us will have to make that particular choice since most of us aren’t considered that special in the first place!).

Walking in the Quiet Way means stepping aside from hierarchical systems and special privilege, accepting a low and unnoticed place. It means disengaging from all that dangles in front of us as temptation and titillation, distracting and disturbing us and dragging our attention hither and thither until we lose our focus on the beautiful things of Christ.

Walking in the Quiet Way means that we have made the choice to come apart from what most people run after (success, wealth, privilege, attention, status, achievement, dominance, affluence, luxury, kudos, admiration, being special and making others envious) and by following the Quiet Way are coming apart to a Quiet Place.

The Quiet Place is not a retreat house or a rural idyll, it is inside our own hearts. It is the condition of contentment with what life has offered us, the willingness to accept as God’s good gift whatever this day has presented.

We are walking in the Quiet Way when we are finding the path to that Quiet Place where we can listen to others without clever responses jostling to the front of our minds waiting impatiently to make an appearance, when we can turn aside from the prurience and obscene grotesquerie (scenes of torture and terror, close-up images of wounds and butchered bodies, sudden close-ups animals copulating or of their genitalia, close-in footage of humans in sexual intercourse) that infests modern television, when we can be happy with the way we are and the things we have without feeling the need to stockpile kits and gadgets or to obsess over our facial hair, skin condition and flab.

We are walking in the Quiet Way when we know we have enough: when a glass of plain water is enough for our thirst, when vegetable soup and brown bread are enough for our supper, when friends chatting over a pot of tea is enough of a celebration, when knitting or gardening or reading or writing or walking in the country are enough for our leisure pursuits.

We are walking in the Quiet Way when the day starts and ends with a prayer, when we remember to give thanks for our food, when we take joy in the members of our families, when our hearts are big enough to spare a little love for our neighbour in need or lonely.

We are walking in the Quiet Way when others are safe with us, can be themselves with us, find encouragement in our company, when we are gentle and kind to those who are with us, and loyal to those who are not.

Walking in the Quiet Way we become people of quietness, who have found the eye of the storm, the Quiet Place at the centre of our turbulent being where we can rest in Christ in the midst of whatever is going on.

And sometimes we will lose our balance, fall off the tightrope and make a complete mess of things. Sometimes what we will do and be will make us absolutely ashamed of ourselves. And when that happens, God understands, and He forgives us, and we can simply start again.


Ganeida said...

Ember: I am blessed to live surrounded by quietness & it is a real mortification to go off the island but we live here for many of the reasons you mention. When man surrounds himself with the manmade he tends to think higher of himself than he ought; when he surrounds himself with the things of God he has a much better perspective on the whole of life.

In all this the thing on my heart & mind is how to live with joy, the joy that Christ spoke of that should radiate out from us in such a way as to draw others. If I can coalese my thoughts into some semblence of order I may blog about it. So much of life can be so fraught we forget that we can access joy.

Pen Wilcock said...

I would really welcome reading your thoughts about that, Ganeida.
When my children were tiny, I realised that my irrascibility towards the end of the day was in part an attempt to use adrenalin to generate energy when I felt exhausted, and I came to recognise that anger and joy are the opposing poles of energy resource. I think Jesus' extraordinary stamina in responding to the ceaseless strem of needy folk who sought him was his deep and abiding core dynamic of joy.

Buzzfloyd said...

Is it OK to play board games too? And musical instruments? And eat cake?

Pen Wilcock said...

Board games? Of what self-indulgence is this that thou speaks? Musical Instruments? {{sharp intake of breath through pursed lips followed rapidly by startled gulp}} Cake? Duh! OBVIOUSLY! Can any ministry proceed without cake?