For the last week – well, if I am honest, for the last several weeks – I have struggling with an inner disquiet, an inability to escape memories and experiences going back thirty years or more that have returned again and again to cast a shadow over the present, and in some sense still to exert over it some kind of control. As this week wore on it came to me at last that, despite all that I have written here and elsewhere, all I’ve taught and spoken of, I have consistently tried to oppose these relived memories, nightmares and conditioned reflexes with my own will and reason. I think somehow I may have been content to leave many other things in God’s hands; but on this, my trust has not been enough, or perhaps I have simply thought that it was my responsibility to sort out what I had allowed so long ago. At the end of my own resources, finally, I gave up. I lay down in stillness in the middle of the day, looking to Christ in my heart; I fell asleep, and awoke at peace. I suppose that I had in plain fact come to that place the apostle Paul wrote of:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Romans 8.26-27 NIV
This morning, the Friend whose turn it was to read from Advices and queries shared a brief ministry to go with her reading of:
Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
She spoke of the need for trust; that it is God who leads, and God who makes whole. Somehow her words, and the sense of their weight in her own life, closed the circle for me of this week’s culminating surrender to God.
It is stillness, once again, at the heart of this. Without stillness, our hearts are closed to the promptings of love and truth. It was William Leddra, the Quaker martyr of Barbados, who wrote:
Stand still, and cease from thine own working, and in due time thou shalt enter into the rest, and thy eyes shall behold his salvation, whose testimonies are sure, and righteous altogether.
In even the darkness, there is a gift God has, but we must keep very still to receive it. In her wonderful book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of Jesus in prayer:
“The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction,” wrote the 14th-century mystic Meister Eckhart:
Leave place, leave time,
Avoid even image!
Go forth without a way
On the narrow path,
Then you will find the desert track.
According to the Gospels, Jesus knew that track well. He made a habit of sleeping outdoors under the stars – on a mountain, if he could find one. The fact that this is reported, more than once, without any further detail, suggests that he went alone.
When he took people with him, they usually had plenty to say about it afterwards, but no one has anything to say about what Jesus did on those nights alone. Even his famous forty days and nights in the wilderness pass without comment until they are over, which is when he and the devil sort out who works for whom.
When you put this together with the fact that God speaks to Jesus only once in the entire New Testament – shortly after he is baptised by John – it seems clear that this father and this son were not in constant public conversation. Their conversation was almost entirely private, when Jesus went out on the mountain to spend the night with God in prayer.
If Jesus was truly human, as Christians insist he was, his sleep architecture was like anyone else’s. He stayed awake awhile. He slept awhile. He woke awhile later, rested a few hours, then slept some more.
When he opened his eyes, he saw the night sky. When he closed them again, the sky stayed right there. The only witnesses to his most intimate moments with God were the moon and the stars – and it was all prayer.
Once again, Paul the apostle knew this, at least in spirit. After the two verses I quoted above comes one of his most remarkable statements:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8.28 NIV
Quietly. The heart is awake in moonlight, pure reflection.
Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and then doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes.