Over some years I had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with Brennan Manning. He used to tell us something like this: some days all heaven wants from us is to show up and shut up.
Brennan understands the dynamics of authentic spirituality and human frailty better than most. He recognizes that—no matter our life-calling, declarations or intentions—we all have days where presenting ourselves to the Presence of God and trying to stay focused to the Presence is about all we are capable of.
And Jesus, having come to live among us and do life as us, understands this too. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are…” writes the author of Hebrews.
But if Jesus and Heaven are understanding about our weaknesses, are we as understanding of our opportunities and obligations? For simply showing up and shutting up are not too much for us offer our Creator every day. And yet, the way we so often choose to live suggests that showing up and shutting up are more than we are willing to give.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence…” the psalmist writes.
And again, “For God alone, o my soul, wait in silence….”
Is this a quaint relic of ancient spirituality? Or is this the most profound key to substantive living, one that easily eludes us?
In giving God specific time every day where we show up and shut up, we create space in our own personal world where God can be God to us. When we make ourselves present and available, when we make ourselves still to listen, we make space in our world for God to be God.
It’s the simplest thing to do. Yet most of us find great resistance doing it.
Even when times were simpler it was always this way with us. But now we’re overcome with opportunities of engagement and distraction and we don’t have to risk the deplorable emptiness of silence if we don’t want to.
Because—and let’s be honest about this—there is great cost in being silent before God and great risk.
The great cost is that I have to develop the sort of self-discipline by which I yield my ability to be entertained, distracted and engaged. I give up letting life pull me along, finding buzz and energy in other sources, allowing outside stimulants to give me focus. Being silent before God makes me aware of the spaces in my soul, of the emptiness in my being, of the chasms in the world. It can be scary, sensing the gaps.
And I said there is great risk, too. But what risk can there be in being quiet, in stilling one’s soul so as to be present to the Presence? The greatest risk of all: God might not show up. He might not show up because he doesn’t want to be available to me. He might not show up because I’ve offended or disappointed him. Or, he might not show up because he actually doesn’t ever show up. He simply might not show up because he is not there.
And yet…when I’ve been quiet, when I’ve yielded, when I have stilled myself, when I have waited…the Presence does make itself known. It’s really the most remarkable thing. Not always, not on command, not on my terms—never on my terms, it seems—but in the silence he is there.
So, it turns out, the ancient admonition, “for God alone, o my soul, wait in silence…” is the most profound key to robust spirituality, to substantive living.
If we are not silent, how can the Creator communicate to us? How does God clarify and emphasize to us things he has made known if we do not be quiet, think, reflect and listen?
How does the Spirit of Grace and Truth administer grace and apply truth to the pathways of our thoughts and feelings if we do not quiet ourselves in a receptive state on a regular basis?
All of creation owes God its attention. How much more those he has created and endowed with his powers of self-awareness, reflection and decision-making? And of all God’s children, who ought to make the most consistent, steady, devoted effort to show up and shut up if not those who say Christ is their Lord?