Hundreds of years ago people who took their faith very seriously went into the dessert to achieve what is called HEYCHIA, which means inner stillness. Inner stillness is the ability to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of the noise and activity of a busy life. There’s not a lot to look at outwardly in the desert—which means there is more time to look inward…
….at the mustard seed or the Kingdom of God or the Mind of Christ or the Goodness of God or Praying Without Ceasing
Remember, John the Baptist comes out of this desert tradition, and so does Jesus. They both spent time in the wilderness.
One of the ways these desert dwellers practiced staying in the Still, Quiet, Strong mind of God was to recite a little prayer called the Jesus Prayer several times a day.
The Jesus prayer goes like this: “LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It’s a combination of two short prayers in the gospel: the blind man in Jericho prays “Jesus, son of David, Have mercy on me!” The tax collector prays in the Temple, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Put the two together and we get “LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
Now, this wasn’t the only short prayer the desert dwellers repeated several times a day, but the goal was this: to remember GOD, and by remembering GOD to make GOD present. To want to be in the presence of God is to BE in the presence of God.
While saying the Jesus prayer the desert dwellers didn’t remember the events in Jesus’ life—they felt him; they experienced him. They described it as a “sentiment of tenderness.”
It takes a little effort to remember God throughout the day—to return to God’s still, quiet mind. In fact a story was circulated about one of these desert dwellers named Abba or “Father” Isaiah and it goes like this:
“It was said of Abba Isaiah that one day he took a branch and went to the threshing-floor to thresh and said to the owner, ‘Give me some wheat.’ And the owner replied, ‘Well, have you brought in the harvest, Father?’ And Abba Isaiah said, ‘No.’ So the owner said to him, ‘How then can you expect to be given wheat, if you have not harvested?’ Then the old man said to him, ‘Are you saying then that if someone does not work, they do not receive wages?’ And the owner said, “of course I am.’ So the old man went away.
Seeing what he had done, the monastics of that place bowed before him, asking him to tell them why he had acted in that way. And the old man said to them, ‘I did this as an example: Whoever has not worked will not receive a reward from God.’
Life with God, we being to understand, must be worked at. Not by memorizing creeds and formulas, but by opening to God’s very self.
Another way the desert dwellers practiced staying in the Still, Quiet, Strong mind of God was to sit quietly in the Presence and not think any thoughts so that God could rise to the surface. This way of praying is called contemplative prayer and centering prayer.
We’re going to practice contemplative prayer this morning for three minutes. The goal is twenty minutes. I invite you to get comfortable. Place your palms on your knees and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. If you think a thought observe it and let it go. Return to your breathing until you are not aware that you are breathing.
Now you might be thinking, “I don’t have three minutes to sit quietly in the Presence of God every day.” And you might be thinking, “Even if I took the time to memorize the Jesus prayer, or to write it down and put it in my wallet, I don’t have time to whisper it and let it shape me. I move from activity to activity all day long.”
This reminds me of a joke or two or four:
What time is it when you sit on a pin? Spring time.
What time is it when an elephant sits on your car? Time to get a new car.
If twenty dogs run after one cat, what time is it? Twenty after one.
Customer: I d like a watch that tells time. Clerk: Don’t you have a watch that tells time? Customer: No, you have to look at it.
Time is precious to us. It’s become more important than money. We have arranged our sleeping life and waking life to occupy all 24 hours we have been given in our day. The question is, is all of this activity working FOR us or against us?
I have a friend who suffers with LUPUS and she is always telling me, “Pain is a great motivator.”
Our story from Mark’s gospel is a story about pain.
The disciples are in a boat with Jesus when a storm moves in. The disciples are fishermen. Since they are afraid this must be a terrible storm. The disciples are flopping around emotionally ---they accuse Jesus of not caring about them; the express fear and plan their funerals.
Does their behavior sound familiar to you when you are presented with sickness and violence and loss and persecution and death? When life gets difficult, do we flop all over the place? Do we accuse God of forgetting where we live? Do we lay awake worrying? Do we express fear to anyone who will listen? “Oh woe is me!” and “We’re going to die!” We render God useless.
After hours of fear expressed as rage or tears or both—how do we feel the next day when the alarm clock goes off? We move about the day in a fog, correct?
In our story from Mark Jesus is asleep in the boat tossed about by an angry sea. There are storms everywhere in his life because he’s ushering in a new message: God is WITHIN us, God is LOVE, and we all matter—loving our neighbor is more important than attending a worship service, faith and justice go hand in hand, nonviolence is the orientation of the faithful heart, and so on. His enemies are powerful, like the sea.
Interestingly, Jesus’ is mind is quiet. The events OUTSIDE of his life—the storm, his ministry, are not winning the battle for his attention.
He has learned to stay focused on God.
When Jesus talks to his friends about the absence of their faith the word he uses in the greek is “deilos.” He’s referring to an inner defect. He’s asking them where their heart is, or the center of their soul is. Had they learned to remain in God no matter what the day’s events presented? Or did the events in their lives determine their reality and knock them for a loop emotionally?
He wasn’t condemning them.
He was pointing out the obvious. They weren’t using their time well.
Trust in God is work—discipline. We practice trust in God until we trust in God.
“LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” Centering Prayer. Day after day we practice the presence of God until the presence of God shows up—and inner stillness is our response to an angry world.
We pray until we become prayer.
Makarios the Great—another desert dweller—writes:
“A disciple should always carry
The memory of God within.
For it is written:
You shall love the Lord your God
With all your heart.
You should not only love the Lord
When entering into the p-lace of prayer
But should also remember him with great desire
When you walk or speak to others
Or take your meals.
For scripture says: Where your heart is, there also is your treasure; and surely, wherever a person’s heart is given, wherever their deepest desire draws them, this is indeed their god.
If a disciple’s heart always longs for God,
Then God will surely be the Lord of the heart.
Prayer—teach us how to watch over our heart’s integrity. Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Billings Central Christian on June 21, 2015)