Stillness Is Not Inaction

Background of a green and red flower with a quote in the foreground: "Let my life be rooted in the ground of your peace, O God, let me be rooted in the depths of your peace. ~ from CELTIC BENEDICTION by J. Philip Newell"

In the busyness of this day
grant me a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of my heart
grant me a calmness of hearing.
Let my seeing and hearing
my words and my actions
be rooted in a silent certainty of your presence.
Let my passions for life
and the longings for justice that stir within me
be grounded in the experience of your stillness.
Let my life be rooted in the ground of your peace, O God,
let me be rooted in the depths of your peace.

~ from CELTIC BENEDICTION by J. Philip Newell

It’s counterintuitive to me when God urges me to become still during times when action is required.
When I scroll through my newsfeed a witness children being penned in cages, when corporations and governments continue to barrel through indigenous lands still lacking in accessible drinking water, when churches continue to oppress marginalised voices or simply ignore them as ‘not our problem’, and when group after hurting group cries out for justice, mercy, and community…stillness seems like inaction.

We live in an age when inaction is sinful. It upholds our status quo while giving privilege to those of us who have been in power for far too long. Listening for God who is rooted in stillness seems like an [themedy_pullleft colour=”light-gray” colour_custom=”” text=””In the busyness of this day grant me a stillness of seeing, O God.””]unconscionable act. It gives me license to carry on as I always have without feeling any measure of guilt over not listening to the cries for justice around me. Inaction lets me get up in the morning, get dressed, make my way to work or school, deal with the anxieties and complexities those microcosms inevitably bring, cook supper, and go to bed. Inaction balloons my own perceptions that my beliefs and actions are already correct and good enough. Inaction is a deeply political act already working in my own favour even before I consciously choose it.

As I wake up to these realities, why would I then choose stillness?

Without stillness, my action becomes reaction.
My passions become wild and ungrounded, my words become verbal spit, my body becomes instinctual and ready to fight or flee, and my thoughts are untethered to the world around me. Inaction is a conscious choice to ignore the world around me. Stillness is a divine attribute of God — passed on to me at the moment of creation — that compels me to engage in the peace and awareness of God, allowing me to respond to the world around me. The former is a reactionary stance; the latter is one of response.

It does not deny the existence of my passions. Indeed, stillness creates a forge where my passions are tempered and shaped into things far more influential and passionate than the raw materials ever could be by themselves. Stillness doesn’t deny my anger but rather gives it space where it can be known and heard in ways that will drive me response instead of adding to the grief of the world.

In stillness, God takes who I already am and confronts me with me.

It is not a place of rejection, but rather awareness. Without stillness, I wouldn’t be able to see or hear or experience these confrontations of self. By constantly stampeding into action in the face of inaction, I make sure that I never have time for reflection, that I am already right in my reactions, and that rarely encounter God on God’s terms. It can be just as toxic as inaction. Inaction provides me with all the comforts ignorance can provide. Reaction provides me with a sense of false justice while sparing me the hard work of confronting my deeds (it also breeds deep burnout and cynicism).
I can find stillness in nature, in my bedroom, in a small corner of an office’s rooftop garden, or behind a dumpster. As I begin to visit these external spaces each day, I discover that not only can God create stillness in any space, but also that the same stillness of God is also found within me. Struggling with anxiety as I have in the past, believing that such stillness actually helps to make up who I am in God is a far-fetched tale.

Anxiety tells me, “If I don’t maintain this level of outrage or horror at the state of the world, I have already failed.”

When I have worked to hard to step out of the world of inaction, releasing my reactions feels like a steep betrayal of justice. Maintaining a position of anger, even with compassionate intent, feels clearer because it feels like I’m actually doing something productive. In reality, I am doing no such thing. I’m only ignoring the depth and wisdom of God as well as the cry of my own soul looking for ways to let go.

Inaction demands I remain as I am; stillness demands transformation. Stillness requires a hefty amount of trust — trust which I often believe has been broken by God — that I will emerge a different person. I can and will respond to the grief and darkness of the world in ways that are loving, courageous, authentic, and informed. I’ll be as imperfect as I ever was, but the relentless oppression of inaction’s rule will no longer brutalise my interior world.
Meeting God in the stillness of God’s self creates space to declare: “There is a new creation.”

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