Still waters

Message for October 15, 2017
Glennon Heights Mennonite Church
Betsy Headrick McCrae
Scripture passages: Psalm 23 and Philippians 4:1-9
Still waters
Every summer Bruce and I try to make it to the McCrae family cabin on the
shores of Hand Lake in northern Minnesota. There is much that draws us back to this
well-loved place, not the least of which is time shared with family. There is always much
laughter, activity and fun. But what I have come to value the most is the lake itself.
Especially when everything is still. The water is like glass. You can see the reflection of
the trees along the shore and the clouds in the sky. Except for occasional loon calls, all is
quiet. Still. I like to be out in a kayak on the lake when it is like this, just floating and
being present, letting the deep stillness soak into my body and my soul.
“He leads me beside still waters,” says the psalmist. This morning I invite you to
experience a bit of this stillness with me. Here’s what I would like you to do:
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, in and out. Now, imagine.
Imagine taking off your cares and worries like you would take off a jacket or a backpack
and laying them aside. You can pick them up again later. Now, imagine walking down
to the lake. It is still, beautiful, calm and clear. Imagine slipping into a kayak and
paddling quietly out to the center of the lake. Or if being on the water is not your thing,
imagine settling into a lawn chair on the shore and looking out at the beauty around you.
All is quiet. All is still. For the next two minutes – which may seem long, but don’t
worry; if there are noises, imagine they are the call of a loon – for the next two minutes
sit quietly, breathe slowly and allow this image of stillness to permeate your being.
[two minutes of silence]
As we come out of the quiet, and before you pick up your cares and worries again,
I invite you to listen to another story of stillness as told by Sarah Hooley from southern
Idaho. She entitled her reflection, “Morning Prayers with Molly.” Receive it as a gift.
“Under a blue vaulted ceiling stretching to infinity, I crouch while the heartbeat-like
rhythm of milk hitting pail rings through quiet spaces, calling the congregants to prayer. Molly
the milk cow stands patiently as Mom and I lean into the places of trust, gently coaxing
frothy milk from her generous udder. I silently repeat segments of songs, the beat following
the motion of my hands. ‘So let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart,
be acceptable in your sight, O God …’ And soon after, ‘My Shepherd will supply my need
… no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.’ Occasionally my hands brush
Mom’s, and I find solidarity and accountability in her presence — in knowing her daily
prayer: ‘… hallowed be your name, your kingdom come … give us this day our daily bread
“Others answer the call to stillness too. Archie the cow dog lies quietly nearby while
Nellie the cat cuddles fondly between his paws. Stately Frederick, the silver tabby, sits tall
on the brow of the pasture hill. Squirrels pause on their route from walnut tree to haystack
cache, quivering bodies momentarily still. Peacocks preen meditatively in the morning
sunlight, and the magpie shouts his raucous praises to the heavens.
“We thank Molly with apples and a hearty breakfast, leaving a trail of
contentment in our wake. Calmed by the quiet communion, we carry abundance to the
house. What began as yet another chore, borne from the desire of being close to our food
source, soon became a daily opportunity to pause in the presence of our Great Provider.
How do these things begin? I only remember coming to the awareness of what already
“Morning prayers change with the seasons. Molly moves from pasture to barn.
We go from smelling dew-wet grass to breathing in August’s harvest from the golden
straw around our feet. Sometimes prayers come as easily as breath; other times restless
hooves and busy schedules make stillness illusive. Regardless of how today’s prayers go,
tomorrow we will try again as we kneel beside Molly in the presence of the Cosmic
That’s the end of the reflection by Sarah Hooley and the end of our morning time
of stillness in the presence of God.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The Apostle Paul writes these
words to folks in the fledgling church in Philippi. He knows that things aren’t going
smoothly there. He knows that there is tension in the house. He acknowledges the
difficulties, even going so far as naming names. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be
of the same mind in the Lord.” He calls on others in the community to help these
colleagues, these sisters in the faith work out their differences and find a way forward.
He calls on them to re-center their faith. To recover the deep stillness within them, to
return to the source of their hope.
We human beings can tolerate anything as long as our center holds. We are not
responsible for what is at the center – it is God – but we do need to put intentional effort
into keeping our connection to the center alive and strong. We do this in several ways.
One is personal. We must each put on our oxygen mask first before helping
others. We do this by taking time to be still and recognize the presence of God deep
within us. God does dwell within each one of us, you know. This is a truth and a
mystery; it is something we as Christians confess to be true but have a hard time
comprehending. In his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Catholic mystic Thomas
Merton provides a beautiful image which I find very helpful. He writes;
“. . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin
and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God . . . .
This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. . . .
It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody,
and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the
face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish
God is there at the very center of our being. A pure diamond, blazing with the
invisible light of heaven. This is true for each of us, for all of us. In prayer and stillness,
taking time to wait and to listen, we orient ourselves to this light. We let go of ourselves
and enter fully into God’s presence. In doing so we anchor ourselves in the deep and
abiding love which holds us fast.
Although this is personal, it is not an individual experience. Staying connected to
God always leads to increased connection to people and the world around us. We learn to
look outward as we look inward. As we find God in ourselves, we begin see God in each
other. We know that God dwells in us and among us and that, come hell or high water,
we are in this together, as a community, as a people. We draw strength and courage from
this realization and from each other.
Since we are in this together, notice what is going on in the community. Paul says
that to the Philippians and to us. Pay attention. Treat each other with gentleness. Look
for and expect to see the light of God’s glory in each person. Listen deeply to what is
going on in each other’s lives. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who
weep. Bring out the best in each other. To do this is to participate in the work of God.
In the September 25 issue of “The Mennonite World Review” Hanna Heishman
writes about transformation. She tells the story of a woman who stuttered as a child. She
was told by a teacher that she would be limited to only one question per class period
because her stutter delayed the entire class. Frustrated and hurt, she went home to her
mother, who immediately committed to working with her to overcome her stutter.
Together they were successful in the effort. I was struck by Hanna’s comment on this.
She writes:
“I was mesmerized by the transformation she described – and by how it was
facilitated through her relationship with her mother. She embodied what happens when
we feel truly safe with another, when we are truly and deeply listened to. It creates us,
makes us unfold and expand.”
When we are centered in the stillness that is God at our center, we are able to
provide the solid ground others need to grow and flourish. When we are in the company
of others who are centered and grounded in God’s presence, we, too, begin to feel like we
are on solid ground. When we feel truly safe with another, when we are truly and deeply
listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Think about these things. Think about them not because you’re trying to block
out the bad stuff, though that might be a nice side-effect. Think about them not as a
penance or some sort of homework assignment, though intention and practice are
important elements. Instead think about these things because they help us understand
who God is and what God desires. They reflect the true nature of God, the Creator of the
universe, this God who resides deep within each of us. God is true, honorable, just, pure,
pleasing, and commendable. In God there is excellence and it is worthy of praise. This is
who God is and this is who we are to be as God’s people, people in whom God lives.
The gift that comes from thinking about these things, from focusing on God’s presence in
us and in the world is peace which surpasses all understanding. Peace which comes from
knowing that our souls, our hearts, our minds, our lives are inhabited by and centered on
the God of life.
Which takes us back to stillness. Stillness born of trust. The stillness which is
described so beautifully in Psalm 23. Listen again to this beloved psalm, my sisters and
brothers. Let it wash over you. Let your heart be filled with peace.
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green
pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you
are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in
the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house
of the LORD my whole life long.” Amen.

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