Our country, the Philippines, had been hit by a series of natural disasters in recent months, the latest being Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan); predictions of a major earthquake expected to strike the country’s national capital region any time soon, had many on their knees praying. On a 10-hour trip to the city from the province for a conference, heaviness weighed on my soul at leaving my 2 preschool-age children behind with just their grandparents and ate to keep them company for the next two nights. I’d never been apart from them for more than a night, save for the ten days I spent at an out-of-town health facility, following mastectomy.
The conference was supposed to be a birthday present from my husband: 3 child-free days away from home to nourish soul and spirit. I was thirsty, and desperate enough to travel 10 hours by land, and take a break from my two adorable, precocious, and extremely energetic pre-school girls. Becoming a mom was something we had long looked forward to after 11 years of waiting. Finally, when it came, at midlife, it turned our whole, previously well-ordered life completely upside down. Suddenly, we were no longer in control. Our life was taken over by first one, and then, two years later, another baby. Me-time became a much-coveted luxury. Our carefree as a couple ended before we even quite saw it coming or realized how much we already had.
I welcome a break from my children every now and then, but this time around, leaving was a struggle. I was the only parent they had with them, with my husband away for months, and it would take a few more months before we could join him, just like we do, for a few months every year. Like Persephone, half my life after becoming a mother had been spent with my husband in the middle east, and half in the Philippines, with both our families of origin. Home for us has been wherever we are together, as a family: we–my children and I, have been living in both worlds. I would like to think it’s been the best of both — the slow rhythm and long silences of life in the middle east, so conducive to rest, contemplation, and quiet reflection; and the freedom of movement, lively and vibrant culture that is the Philippines.
Cultivating silence, inner stillness, Selah–soul-rests in between movements–is much easier when the mind is still so that there are few distractions and less noise, both inner and outer, to draw one’s attention away. I have often tended to be a super-Martha, always bustling about, never resting, always in a flurry. The Mary moments, ironically, take a lot more conscious effort. After all, how difficult can it be to simply rest at the Master’s feet, right? Tell that to a mom, a work-at-home mom, no, make that super-mom.
The narrower one’s physical and social space becomes, the easier it becomes for us to encounter the presence of the living God; when there is no longer anything to hide behind; no longer any noise to distract us; no enticements to lure or dazzle us. When all diversions and entertainments cease, and space opens up for the Spirit to speak, to move, to flow.
One day, something just clicked. I got it. Hallelujah! I got into the 24×7 pray-without-ceasing rhythm. I discovered that when the mind is still and the heart is open, one can hear God speak, even at the kitchen sink, doing the dishes, just as clearly as He does while I am just sitting quietly when all the house is asleep; and that my prayer room can be the kitchen just as much as t is the bedroom, the guest room, the bathroom, anywhere God chooses to speak and I take the time to listen and respond. Availability is key. Am I willing to set aside whatever it is I am occupied with or that occupies me, when the Father wants to speak, not at my own convenience, but at His? Does God need an appointment to speak with me? God often chooses to speak at unguarded moments, an inconvenient time, and when we least expect it. This is why tuning in is important.
Jesus got up at lonely hours to pray. He went up to a mountainside, oftentimes to be alone with the Father. I have climbed a mountain once, in my youth, seeking a fresh encounter with God. It was impulsive and I was unprepared physically, for the day-and-a-half-long-climb, and the heavy traffic of fellow pilgrims on the same path. My friend and I, also an inexperienced climber tagged along (actually forced ourselves on) a group of experienced and prepared climbers trekking up a mountain. It was the time of the Holy Week celebration. If you have ever been on a mountaintop at sunrise, with the clouds below, you will perhaps see just a tiny glimpse of what heaven feels like, of being face to face with the grandeur and majesty of something and someone infinitely bigger than our tiny selves. And you will feel such awe, you would die happy that very moment with so much perfection, so much beauty around you.
Many years hence, on another mountain, God made His presence felt, seen, heard. This time around, I had come, not out of a place of emptiness but out of a thirst for more. I wanted the full measure of what God had for me. I experienced a taste, another glimpse of something higher, deeper than I had ever been. God is a master of surprises. He does not change but He never follows a predictable script. And He never disappoints.
And now, here I am again, just wanting to suck the marrow dry, going in whatever direction the Spirit moves, like the tornado-chasing lunatics in the movie Twister. There is a storm raging in my soul.
In returning and rest you shall be saved
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.
Return. Rest. Be still, my soul.
I think about Jesus fast asleep in the little boat tossed around by the waves. This is the picture of a soul at rest. One who sleeps through a storm. A soul at rest cannot be moved or shaken by storms raging around it. It remains at rest, like the axle around which the wheel turns. The storm cannot disturb his peace. A word from Him puts the storm to rest.
Jesus is my peace. My soul finds rest in His presence; a word from Him calms the raging storms in my soul.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”(Psalm 23:2-3)
Rest. Be still. I am here.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30)
Hush, sweet child of mine. Why do you fret so? Set your cares aside. Come sit with me and rest awhile. Only one thing is needed.
Do not let anyone take this away from you. Do not let anything draw you away from me.
“But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2)
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”(John 7:37-38)
Come to me. I am all that you need. And I live within you. I am nearer to you than breath itself. Look within you. I am here. You need not go any farther. It is not complicated. Just come. Come to me and be filled. All these are yours, just for the asking, just for the receiving.
“Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”(John 4:14)
The glass is half-full only because you have already drunk from it. But there is always more. There will always be more. The well never runs dry, no matter how thirsty you are. There is always more. There will always be more.