I had one of those times, I call “a frog in the kettle moments.” Imperceptible change has happened and then a singular incident brings to your attention that transformation has seeped in and taken root. I was having a conversation with a younger and obviously harried Christian leader. He asked me a question that is typical when those of us in ‘ministry’ get together, “Been busy?” I paused for a beat or two and replied “No, not really.’ This seemed to take him aback. It is not the usual response in these settings. We are all aware of the unspoken rule that, one of the key markers of successful ministry is busyness. My near exhausted friend was startled (and I too was surprised because this is not something one admits) and then he seemed struck with envy. “Can we trade? I’m going flat out and not making headway.”
In his first epistle John addresses 3 groups of readers: children, fathers, and young people (1John 2:12,13 NRSV) and I am beginning to think I have morphed into the second category. The “young people” that John addresses are the busy ones with ministries marked by activity. The fathers are marked , John says, in verse 13 for knowing him who is from the beginning. Knowing uses much different faculties than activity. There is a stillness required for knowing “Be still and know….” The frenetic activity that I used to pride myself on has quietly been replaced with a reflective stillness. In the work-a-day world we might refer to “Work smarter not harder.”
A few years ago I had some fun with this idea of ‘stillness’ as a virtue. I printed up certificates lauding recipients as winners of “Saint John Idle”. I took the certificates and handed them to folks who were enjoying the sun in King’s Square. The certificate praised them for taking the opportunity to be still and reflect on creation. I did not include any overt reference to God in the certificate but the conversations inevitably flowed there.
Today the idea of a “holy idleness” is out of favour, as never before. Rather than chance stillness slipping into boredom we reach for our phones. We scroll and by our scrolling we miss an opportunity. While I check how many ‘likes’ my latest post has received I miss the chance to hear, I miss the chance to know him who is from the beginning.
Idleness is not esteemed in our culture but all the saints we look to as examples of holiness practised the stillness that chances boredom! The Great Commandment is to love God and the old pop song “To know,know, know him, is to love, love love, love, him” rings true! To truly love God I must know him more and more. To know him more requires that I am still. This is a counter cultural thought!
I am not advocating that we do not work. Kingdom activity is important. I am saying, though, that times of stillness are vital. We are so afraid of being bored that we miss the opportunity to know God more deeply. Let us keep in mind as we attempt stillness that “perfect love, casts out fear.”