I meandered the well-worn path through the woods, carrying a gift of ramps and venison to the quarantined queen who wears the skin of a simple, humble lady. We sat in parallel rocking chairs on her porch… six feet apart, of course. Me, keeping a safe distance from my treasured friend, who tops me by half a lifetime, and twenty lifetimes of suffering and intimacy with the King.
We watched the cars roll in front of her house, and I asked her had the traffic slowed at all in the past two weeks of our communally-requested quarantine? She lamented that folks don’t seem to understand the value of staying home. She, who would suffer a much greater fate, where she to contract a virus. She told me that she had read that folks were going to Walmart and wandering aisles, seemingly out of boredom. Or habit. And the workers were scared. They wanted to stay open, to serve those in need, but it was not a need that people lollygag around a store.
I lamented that folks are avoiding stillness. I am solidly convinced that avoiding stillness and solitude is avoiding a magnificent blessing. We are a nation that seems to believe comfort and convenience are “essential”, and oh, does it make my heart ache. Me, who knows that sometimes God meets us best in discomfort and suffering.
I look at my dear friend, the one whose soul smiles something rich no matter what season of suffering she is in. She and I have been friends for nearly a decade and I could spend chapters and books describing to you all the I have seen her walk courageously through.
I asked her squarely, how did she learn stillness? It occurs to me, rocking on her stately rocking chair in unison with this spiritual mother of mine, that she exudes stillness and contentment. She has shared her home with tormented people, even now, with men and women who are full of rage and drunken stupidity, entitlement and selfishness coursing through their veins. They take advantage of her, talk down to her, make demands of her when they ought to serve and give thanks for her generosity. Yet, she always has gentleness to meet them with. She always expresses the compassion of a gracious mother.. It is as though even the vilest of people have a place at her table, because she notices that beneath the spewing hatefulness is a tender heart that’s been broken and never mended. And with her peaceful countenance and stillness of soul, she goes about the business of mending and bearing and loving and healing.
She rocks next to me, telling me of her great-grandparents, who taught her to be still. She woos me with stories of the countenance of her great-grandma, repining in contentment with a gentle smile, enjoying the breeze, the movement of a single flower pedal, the rustling of a tree branch. She told me of her great-grandfather who would whisper to his bundle of grandkids that if they would hold still they could watch the hummingbirds wing make it’s stroke through the air, or hear the flap of the honeybee’s wing. And somehow he managed to make a gaggle of kids still.
She told me how the habit of stillness settled in as a small child, but how it carried who through the years of suffering she has endured. While laying in bed with cancer, paralysis, you name it, she would find a refuge buried deep within her own soul, where she could hide away from the pain. She would make her soul still. She would listen to the sounds of nature with wonder and thanks. She would treasure the blades of grass, knowing that they would not last long and were there for her simple delight.
I rocked gently, thankfully, peacefully, because this dear sister of mine has been an enormous part of my own journey towards learning stillness. I told her how I was born running, but I began to learn stillness on my back porch in Manila, CA. I learned it more fully on my back porch in Ohio. But I think I learned it the most on her porch. I am confident that long after my dear friend flies home to heaven, I will still be learning from her, and learning the things that matter the most.
And I am confident that when we are contentedly still, time slows and becomes more savory and robust with delight.
Right now, we are being asked to stay home to save lives, practically speaking. But beyond that, I believe we are being given the sublime opportunity to learn how to sit in our stillness. What a soul-wealthy gift! We are so naturally driven to production and busyness and chaos, yet right now, the entire nation and really the world is being told: SIT STILL! It may be uncomfortable, but only at first. If enough of us learn the lesson this is meant to teach us, the whole world will be more content and full of wonder for having lived through this generation’s hardships. May this tremendous trial produce glory and goodness and stillness and praise! May it not be wasted! And may we all learn to watch the hummingbird’s wings!