Being still

Posted on March 13, 2011
Filed under Columns & essays | 10 Comments | Email This Post

“Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. It is about taking stock of time….Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.” — Joan Chittister

Variations on the theme of rebirth and transformation — waiting for spring and learning to overcome impatience — have always fascinated me. Today I’m running an excerpt from a column that was first published on April 4, 2004, in the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. The complete piece is reprinted in Writing Home. As the Lenten season begins, what are your challenges? Are you letting go of grudges or foolish expectations? Surrendering an old habit? Using the season to take stock of your life?

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Being Still

One of my favorite traditions at First Congregational Church of Royal Oak is the silent meditation service held the week prior to Easter. The midweek candlelit service is led by parishioners, and this year it’s my turn to help open it. The service is offered during Lent because it is, as T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem, Ash Wednesday, “a time of tension between dying and birth.” It is the perfect opportunity for reflection; a time to meditate on the fearsome darkness of the tomb and the pending miracle of Easter.

While a silent service is simple enough to plan, it isn’t as easy to carry out. Few of us are comfortable “being still” in a sanctuary with other people sitting near us. We expect to be enlightened, educated, entertained, preached to, or otherwise distracted from the white noise in our heads. Meditation makes us fidgety. We fear what might be revealed in the pauses and blank spaces.

As Sue Monk Kidd notes in her midlife memoir, When the Heart Waits, one of the guiding principles of American culture is “All lines must keep moving.” Even when we’re home alone, we rush to fill the void with mindless activity or television. Kidd says we resist getting quiet because we’re afraid to confront our own darkness.

Yet real miracles occur during moments of being still – and waiting in the dark. Spring bulbs do their hardest labor underground before blooming. Likewise, the work of spiritual growth and healing is done in silence.

The time I woke up alone in a dark hospital room, two years ago, immediately comes to mind.

It was just past midnight, a few hours after my second hip surgery. Barely conscious, I awoke to discover my legs were strapped to a large foam wedge to keep me from moving. While I realized this was essential to my recovery, I still felt trapped and terrified.  Equally scary was the sensation of waking up alone in a strange room. (I didn’t recall being wheeled in after surgery, of course.) And while most hospitals are buzzing with activity during the day and evening, the earliest hours of the morning are eerily quiet.

Breaking the silence, I shouted for help and pushed every button within reach. It was the first time I’d experienced a full-blown panic attack. When my nurse arrived, she explained that my panic was probably triggered by withdrawal from the anesthesia. She promised to check back periodically.  Meanwhile, I kept a light on above my bed. Afraid to fall asleep, I kept vigil for daybreak.

By the time the sun rose, I’d finally calmed down and accepted my temporary state of immobility. And in a luminous moment of grace, I suddenly knew I’d been given a second chance. I knew that I would heal and walk again. It would take time, but everything would be okay. And it was. Three days later, I was released early from the hospital to recover in bed at home.

A week before that last surgery, my friend Jenny had sent me a note of encouragement, which included a quote from Patrick Overton. Here’s how it begins:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

I’ve posted that quote where I can see it on my desk every day. It’s the one I like to remember when I’m stumbling in the dark or feeling stuck — or waiting impatiently for a new season to begin. – Cindy La Ferle

–Top photo: Detail from a mixed-media collage: “Birthing a Soul” by Cindy La Ferle. Please click on the image for a larger view. –

Comments

10 Responses to “Being still”

  1. starrlife on March 13th, 2011 1:22 pm

    Lovely and perfect timing for today and the ongoing tragedy as it unfolds! When I was actively involved in religion Lent was one of my favorite times as was Easter. The Catholic message of redemption and re-birth is one close to my heart even if religion itself is not!

  2. Leslie Wyman on March 13th, 2011 1:48 pm

    Beautifully said.

  3. Cindy La Ferle on March 13th, 2011 2:12 pm

    Starrlife and Leslie — thank you. Starrlife, I’ve found it interesting that many religions — including Protestant denominations — honor the Lenten season in some way. Like you, I find the message of redemption and re-birth works on many levels, with or without the Christian story at its roots. This time of year, when it seems that everything is stalled (and spring will never come), the Lent message grounds me, teaching patience and hope.

  4. Marlynn on March 13th, 2011 6:22 pm

    Cindy – crazy to say but Lent has been one of my favorite church seasons and altho not active in a church at this time I still honor the season with reverence to the preparation for the redemption and waiting for the rebirth that Easter brings us. BUT – I am so wowed by your creation above. The “birthing” is absolutely moving in its beauty and unwritten message – the soul shines out – how special to create such a work of art with you shining out of it!

  5. Gayle on March 13th, 2011 6:25 pm

    Even though Arizona winters aren’t bad, there’s something about spring that feels like a new beginning. I’m exploring Lent because I don’t remember learning about it in Sunday School. The collage is so beautiful and hopeful.

  6. Cindy on March 13th, 2011 7:16 pm

    Marlynn, I am always honored when you, a fabulous artist, make a comment about my work. Thank you! I wish I could show the whole collage here — it’s 8 1/2 x 11 and I just couldn’t get the right shot of it with my little iphone camera :-)

    Gayle, I always wondered how people in wonderful warm climates like yours welcome the spring … I’d give anything for some of that Arizona sunshine right now! It’s pretty dreary here in Michigan! Thanks for your kind words for the collage.

  7. deb on March 17th, 2011 6:24 pm

    wonderful , Cindy.
    I have to say that Lent / Spring is more meaningful than the Christmas holiday stuff to me.

    The image of you in that hospital bed post-op is unsettling. I can’t imagine.

  8. deb on March 17th, 2011 6:25 pm

    oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask if there is a way to save my reply info so it doesn’t have to be retyped each time?

  9. Patrick Overton on May 20th, 2011 5:29 pm

    Send me your address and I’ll send you a poster with the poem on it – I’m glad the poem found its way into your life when it did. Patrick Overton

  10. Patrick Overton on May 20th, 2011 5:30 pm

    Send me your address and I’ll send you a copy of the poem in poster form. I’m glad the poem found its way into your life when it did. Patrick Overton

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