31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 1, 2019
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
As we did at the beginning of worship, I invite you to plant your feet firmly on the ground. If you can, roll them around, touching each corner of your foot to the floor and then let your full foot be grounded on the floor. Take a deep breath. Feel your chest inflate. Feel your shoulders move. Take another deep breath and let your hands rest in your lap or by your sides.
Close your eyes for a moment and be fully present in the present, remembering that you have nowhere better to be at this moment than right here, no place else to go.
Years ago, I had a spiritual director who encouraged me to set apart time to be quiet with God. Meditation has a long history in the Christian church as it does in other faith traditions. And in recent years, mindfulness and meditation have become very trendy in society, as an antidote to our anxious and stress-filled lives. Just last week, I saw a daytime talk show with fitness guru Jillian Michaels where she was talking about the importance of meditation.
Here was this woman known for telling people to give her ten more push-ups, advocating for being still. Because science has discovered that meditation lengthens our telomores, the DNA that occurs at the end of our chromosomes, and this is good because shortened telomeres are associated with an increased incidence of cancer and other diseases. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3370421/)
Meditation is good for our bodies and good for our brains. In the foreward to Eline Snel’s book, Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents), Jon Kabat-Zin writes:
In adults, mindfulness training has been shown to positively influence important regions of the brain having to do with executive functioning, including impulse control and decision making, perspective taking, learning and memory, emotion regulation, and a sense of connectedness with one’s own body. Under intense and unremitting stress, all these brain functions rapidly degrade. This can impair learning, wise decision making, and the development of emotional intelligence, to say nothing of self-confidence and a sense of connectedness with others. (Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents), Foreword, xiii –xiv)
Jon Kabat-Zin also writes, “Children, of course, are naturally mindful, in the sense that they live very much in the present moment and are not so preoccupied with the past and the future.” (Snel, Foreward, xiv)
Think about your own childhood. It is true that as with creativity, we are born to be mindful, to appreciate the present moment, neither dwelling on the past nor worrying about the future. And there was a time when our children role-modeled that natural mindfulness for us so well. Now, though, anxiety and inattentiveness are on the rise with children, as shown by the existence of Elin Snel’s book and so many others seeking to teach children how to “deal with anxiety, improve concentration, and handle difficult emotions”.
Children might be naturally mindful; however they quickly learn from adults how to be busy, distracted, and anxious. All of which have harmful affects on our bodies and brains and especially on developing bodies and brains.
We don’t have to be convinced that mindfulness is a good thing though. We don’t need to be persuaded that quiet meditation is important. This has been a part of our faith tradition for over 2800 years, even before the psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10).
Be still and know that I am God! Words Jesus embodied each and every time he stepped away from the crowds, stepped away from his disciples, and went into a deserted place for quiet and prayer. This passage from Luke is not an isolated incident. Over and over again, most famously on the night before he was crucified, the gospels record how Jesus took time for quiet, for time spent with God.
Jesus took time to be still and know God. Jesus took time to be still and know that God was his refuge and his strength, to know that God was with him, a very present help in trouble and that he should not fear even though the earth should change. (Psalm 46:1-2)
It’s hard to be centered and clear about God’s leading when we can never hear God’s still speaking voice. It’s hard to follow that calling when we are constantly bombarded by the needs of others, by the demands of the world. And it’s almost impossible to be calm, non-reactive, an instrument of peace and love when we are exhausted, overextended and disconnected from ourselves and God.
So Jesus regularly went into a deserted place. I wondered about that little word “into” when I was studying this passage, and then I realized that the deserted place might not be an actual place. It might be a state of mind. Jesus, like us, might not have had the luxury of actually getting up and finding a room, a garden, a walking trail through the woods in which to be quiet and meditate. The best he might have been able to achieve was to go “into” a deserted place, a quiet place in his mind and heart, a place where he could connect with himself and God
Which he did regularly, and it was this time away, this time of mindfulness and meditation that refreshed him after healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, that refreshed him after ministering to “all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases” (Luke 4:40).
Time for mindfulness and meditation, for being still and knowing God, also gave Jesus the conviction to be clear about his calling. And it gave Jesus the strength to calmly communicate his calling to all of those who “wanted to prevent him from leaving them” (Luke 4:42)
Imagine how difficult that must have been. Imagine how disappointed the people must have been that Jesus would not stay and take care of their needs, do what they wanted, keep on taking care of them.
And Jesus might have given in (many of us anxiously give in the face of others’ urgent demands) but Jesus did not – because Jesus was still and knew God. Mindful and centered, Jesus was confident and clear about what God was calling him to do.
It’s important to be still and know God. There are so many benefits to meditation and mindfulness however ironically, it is hard to prioritize time for meditation if we are not already centered by meditation.
So this morning, as my spiritual director used to encourage me to do, I bless you with the opportunity to be still and know God. Traditionally, the moment of discernment is about one minute. This morning, I invite you into three minutes of quiet meditation and discernment. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in our culture where we are rarely still, it might feel really long so I invite you to embrace this time as a gift, a blessing, a moment to be mindful, to be still, to connect with your body, and open yourself up to God’s Holy Spirit.
Be still and know that God is your refuge and strength.
Be still and know that God is always with you.
Be still and know God.