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The prayer of stillness

From the April 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

My favorite way to watch a sunset is to be still, to stay in place and watch as the colors of the sky change and the glowing sun settles over the horizon. 

Lately I have been considering this idea of stillness, not so much as it relates to watching a sunset, but to prayer. I have become drawn to the Bible phrases, “Stand still” and “Be still.” For example: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to-day” (Exodus 14:13); “Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14); “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10).

These passages not only instruct us to be still, but assure us that being still can help us more fully experience “salvation” and “wondrous works” and the saving, guiding, and healing power of God.

What does “being still” mean? Are these passages referring to physical stillness? To a degree, yes, since if we’re rushing about from place to place, concerned with schedules and timetables, it might be difficult to stop and pray, to give our attention to God. But I think the instruction to be still means more than just achieving physical stillness. It refers to stilling, or quieting, our thinking.

For me, finding this mental stillness requires a great deal of humility. It means I have to set aside worries, frustrations, and opinions, and open my thoughts to the presence of God, good. This isn’t always easy. Human concerns can sometimes come from many directions and dominate my thoughts.

To still these concerns, I’ve found help in this statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy: “All nature teaches God’s love to man, but man cannot love God supremely and set his whole affections on spiritual things, while loving the material or trusting in it more than in the spiritual” (p. 326). God is Love; therefore, setting our whole affections on spiritual things means trusting Love. What could be more natural? I’ve found that the more I love and trust God, the more the storm of concerns is calmed in my thinking, and I can find the mental stillness I need to pray for myself and others.

When we acknowledge God as the source of all of the good in our lives, and understand something of God’s allness and activity, we begin to find release from the human impulse to try to forcibly make things happen. As the ever-presence of God’s goodness is understood and adhered to, thought becomes more settled and at peace, and we begin to see and experience more of this goodness in our lives.

Christ Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). To me, the kingdom of God means the reign of ultimate goodness, including perfection, completeness, and abundance. It’s a profound and comforting truth to realize that we don’t need to go looking for these things outside of ourselves; they already exist right within our true, spiritual consciousness, because we are God’s reflection. Moreover, not only do we have God’s kingdom within that true consciousness, but it is truly God’s will for us to experience it. As Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

I’ve found that the more I love and trust God, the more the storm of concerns is calmed
in my thinking.

This truth proves the power and promise of spiritually inspired stillness. However, sometimes we might be tempted to believe that if we are just still, and don’t do something to make good things happen, someone else will come along and take away the good that is rightfully ours. The falsity of this belief that goodness is achieved simply by taking human action is demonstrated in a story in the Bible of a man who’d had an infirmity for 38 years (see John 5:1–9). He was waiting with other impotent people by a pool whose waters were believed to occasionally assume healing powers through the touch of an angel. The catch was that only one person—the first to get to the water—could partake of the water’s healing power, and everyone else had to wait until the angel returned, and then try once again to reach the water first.

Upon seeing the man, Jesus asked him if he would like to be made whole. The man responded that he didn’t have anyone to carry him to the water, and by the time he got there, someone else had already beaten him to it. Notably, Jesus’ response wasn’t, “Then let’s get you to that water faster!” Instead he said, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (verse 8). In other words, the man didn’t need to get into the pool in order to be able to walk again. God’s power, not the water, made it possible for him to walk. And the man did; he was immediately healed.

This story is an illustration of the truth that healing comes through the power of Spirit, God. Jesus demonstrated that the power of healing was in the understanding of the man’s permanently established health as a child of God. This permanently established health, or wholeness, is something that the Christ, the pure idea of God, reveals in every person. 

This Bible story points to the idea that goodness, because it is spiritual, is unlimited and available to everyone at all times. So, “getting” that goodness doesn’t require hurried human actions, but rather a spiritual stillness of thought—acknowledging the ever-active healing power of the Christ in all lives, including our own. When the man responded to the presence of the Christ, his healing was immediate and natural. He didn’t have to go anywhere to find it or do anything humanly to achieve it, and no one could take his healing from him.

Certainly, though, there is a right way to be active and to express initiative; and we wouldn’t want to confuse spiritually inspired stillness with human inactivity or idleness. In fact, they’re quite contrary to one another. Mrs. Eddy describes a still, prayer-based thought that leads to right and good actions. She writes: “The best spiritual type of Christly method for uplifting human thought and imparting divine Truth, is stationary power, stillness, and strength; and when this spiritual ideal is made our own, it becomes the model for human action” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 93). Being still in the understanding of God is being spiritually active, because it is a form of prayer.

When I was in elementary school, my dad worked in an administrative position at a small college. While he enjoyed the college atmosphere, the job didn’t allow him to use his talents in writing and communications to the fullest, nor did it allow for much family time, so he began looking for other work.

After searching for several months in a variety of cities around the country, he called a Christian Science practitioner to pray for him. The practitioner asked him to be still—to stop looking outside himself and in other places for fulfillment, but first to simply acknowledge the ever-present activity of the Christ in his life. If he could do that, he would be led forward.

One day very soon after this, my dad spent some quiet time praying in his office before coming home from work. As he left the building, he met a colleague of his walking across campus and felt compelled to ask this colleague who was teaching the business communications classes in the fall. His colleague said they had yet to find someone and asked if my dad was interested. He was indeed interested, and was hired soon after. He has been teaching at that same college for over 35 years since, including well beyond the time when most people retire.

This has become an important milestone in our family, not only because the work has far exceeded my dad’s expectations for fulfillment and has blessed our family and countless students, but also because it has been such a clear demonstration of the powerful role stillness plays in prayer.

The kingdom of God—the abundance of good—is ever present and ever active in our lives and in everyone’s. We can be still and know this.

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