I’m surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and birdsong, enjoying an energetic breeze in the heat of a South African summer, soaking in peace. This week of orientation for our Masters in Christian Formation and Discipleship program ended with a three-day retreat on a gorgeous farm that dates back to 1705. Yesterday we woke to a day of silence (except for the blusterous flatulence someone suffered early that morning in our dorm. I’m sorry, but I giggled throughout the day thinking that’s how we began our rather serious, spiritual experience. I wanted to break out singing “the Sound of Silence” or “Morning has Broken”, but neither was appropriate on a silent (minus fart noises) day. Sorry, I digress…..
I’ve never experienced a total day of quiet- no speaking, no music, and no reading except for small bits of scripture. It was quite amazing. Just as fasting food awakens me to the often ignored need of spiritual nourishment, fasting words made me more aware of the cacophony of noise in my head; as I concentrated on quieting it down, I found I could breathe deeper.
My imagination was sparked to consider that the word “inspiration” also refers to breathing. It is when I slow down and breath in (inspiration) God’s presence that I find the joy and creativity (inspiration) He meant for me to live in. As my body is sustained by breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, I’m spiritually born by the breath of God, and when I am nourished by His Spirit, I naturally exhale His love to those around me.
In the quiet, I practiced breathing like this
Inhaling God’s peace and exhaling my anxieties
Inhaling His sovereignty and exhaling my expectations
Inhaling His joy and exhaling my disappointments
Inhaling His love and exhaling my worship to Him
It wasn’t about convincing God to come and speak, He’s already dwelling with me. I often miss His presence as I scurry about, worrying and striving in the small, preoccupied world thundering in my head. After a few hours of guided scripture meditation and questions to ponder, I found I wasn’t even needing Him to speak, I was just enjoying His presence. Sure- I have lots of questions, and my near future is rather blank and in need of direction, but the peace I have knowing He is with me is enough for now.
It’s true that a full day away from life is a rare treat, but I aim to take this practice into “real” life and incorporate at least five minutes a day of quiet and prayerful focus on the gift of God’s presence. We don’t have to join a monastery to enjoy this practice.
I’ll leave you with a poem our school staff placed in the garden for our prayer walk. It really spoke to me, as I have grown weary working so hard to somehow make the world better (and often feeling disappointed and overwhelmed with the brokenness of humankind.) I’m yearning to create more space in my life and heart for the deeper, richer treasures of peace, contentment and abiding in Jesus. It’s only as I breathe Him in that I have any ability to exhale love for others.
By Martha Postlewaite
Do not try to save
The whole world
Or do anything
In the dense forest
Of your life
And wait there
Until the song
That is your life
Falls into your own
And you recognize
And greet it.
Only then will you
How to give
To this world
So worth of rescue