“All of humanity’s problems stem from
man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
One book that has always meant the world to me is Reinhold Niebuhr’s Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. Great title, eh? It is full of musings about his pastoral work in Detroit in the 1920s. One entry in that journal describes an evening pastoral call Niebuhr had to make at a member’s home after a hard loss.
Before he could knock on their front door, he paced back and forth, up and down the sidewalk, time and again, to screw up courage to face into that family’s need. Every pastor has been there, sitting with those who’ve lost a child or a husband.
This speaks to me because Reinhold Niebuhr was America’s greatest theologian in the 20th century. This brilliant man of heartfelt faith was at a loss for answers, just as I feel at a loss as broken human beings ask aloud the hardest questions.
Thank you for being honest about that, Reinhold. It helps me realize it’s not about having all of the answers. It’s about bringing a presence, a comforting form of constancy, of familiarity, of humanity and of unspoken deeper-than-words caring.
I admit, after 40 years of ministry, entering the presence of trouble, this fear still haunts me. It makes my palms sweat. My mind wants to race ahead for a clever or insightful remark to magically make everything all right. Of course, there is no such thing. It is a spiritual discipline to quiet that racing stream of consciousness and be present to a trembling human being who perhaps has never felt so alone.
Those of us who ply God’s promises for others must learn the art of silence. For it’s not magic people need or expect amid trial and tribulation. It’s sacred mystery they need to rub up against, like the comfort of that quilt your grandmother made.
Such mysteries are too big to be captured by glib sayings to rescue the moment. Instead these mysteries get conveyed as we grow comfortable in our skin as a non-anxious presence amid a world seeming to have gone mad and lost its head.
So, I ask you, not just about comforting others, but also at this bizarre moment in time, how at ease are you with silence? Can you summon anything like serenity to mute the twitchy and jabbering news cycle so as to be still and convey that God is God? Can you sit quietly and calmly before the mystery of life and death?
As you’re already comfortable sitting silently with friends, master the same art in your internal dialogue. Let quiet feed your peace rather than disrupt as you get to know yourself as never before. This is what we call redeeming the moment. If you would like a call from me or the Care Circle, do let us know. We’ll be in touch