Onderstaand artikel is met toestemming van de auteur, Charles Marsh, bewerkt en overgenomen uit: “Learning to Be Still in a Nation of Busy Believers”.
Isn’t it an easy step from stillness to quietism, and from the withdrawal from responsible action in the world? There has emerged in recent years a whole body of popular and new age literature devoted to being still and receptive and attuned to one’s inner life, most of which seems unaware of its narcissism or privilege.
Lives of movement and flight
Stillness is not something that comes easy to most of us. Most of us don’t live lives of serene stillness; rather we live lives of extreme busyness—of frenetic motion, frenzy and distress. We run shuttle services for our children; and we network; we email; we multi-task; we manage; we orchestrate. We keep at it furiously even though we have long forgotten what “it” is beyond some vague notion of winning the prize, though we have also long forgotten what the prize is, and in fact, many of us have realized that there is no end to all our activity.
We live lives of movement and of flight.
Concentrating on the essential
Yet silence, quietness and patience, are qualities of experience that are qualities that are ingredient to the nature of God; Theresa of Avila, in her work on mystical theology, The Interior Castle, describes the soul’s most intimate relationship with God as a place of “deepest silence”. Yet when the soul is brought into this “Mansion of stillness”, the soul is “strengthened” and “equipped”. In his classic text on Christian community, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of a stillness “before the Word” and a silence that “comes from the Word.” He affirms the spiritual discipline of a listening silence; a silence that brings “purification, clarification, and concentration upon the essential thing”. “Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.” 
Stilness or narcissism?
Isn’t it an easy step from stillness to quietism, and from the withdrawal from responsible action in the world. There has emerged in recent years a whole body of popular and new age literature devoted to being still and receptive and attuned to one’s inner life, most of which seems unaware of its narcissism or privilege.
In America during the 1960’s, many church people were altogether still when it came to matters of racial justice and civil rights. Faced with the demands of justice and mercy, they opted for serene detachment. Most of the clergy in the American south especially, acted with supreme indifference—with contemptuous stillness–towards the sufferings of African Americans. Stillness can be a polite form of entitlement or self-indulgence. This is not the stillness of which the Psalmist speaks; this is not the stillness that knows God, the stillness that brings concentration upon the essential thing.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
One night in late January 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King returned to his parsonage after a long day of organizing meetings and from the ordeal of his first arrest and incarceration. He was exhausted. But then the phone rang, and when King lifted the receiver, he heard a gravely drawl release a torrent of obscene words and then a death threat. Threatening phone calls had become a daily routine in the weeks of the protests, but there was something about this call, mingled with his exhaustion and growing despair, that felt deeply unsettling. So King gave up on sleep, and walked down the hall to the kitchen and made himself a pot of coffee.
In the silence of the midnight kitchen, in the deep silences of the Alabama night, King felt himself reeling within. Like the Psalmist said, his soul “melted because of trouble, at wit’s end”. “I couldn’t take it any longer,” King wrote in his memoir. “I was weak.”
With his head buried in his hands, he bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I still think I’m right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
Experiencing the Divine
As his prayer folded the silent room and house, King heard a voice saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.” And as the voice washed over the horrible effects of the threatening caller, King reached a spiritual shore beyond fear and apprehension. “I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before,” he said. “Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
Be still and know that I am God
Our focus is the importance of stillness. An exploration of that astonishing passage in the Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God” [46:10] There is a stillness that concentrates moral energy; a stillness that clarifies vision, that teaches us to listen anew, to learn what it might mean to live with others. To live more as participators in the drama of creation and the work of justice, than as manipulators, calculators and consumers. We may try to orchestrate the work of the Kingdom and seek to impose our cleverness on the spirit; but God says wait; the thing I want most is your simple, grateful acceptance of my love. Unless you place yourself within this truth, you will accomplish nothing. Let us accept the grace to be still, and to wait on God, for it is only out of the stillness of God that our lives find their true strength; that our souls will be equipped and strengthened.
Charles Marsh is a professor of religion at the University of Virginia. www.theologocalhorizons.org