“In an age of movement, nothing is more critical than stillness. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.”
Pico Iyer in The Art of Stillness
I sit on my couch, coffee beside me, mindlessly playing a game on my iPhone. This has never been a problem for me before, but it is now. I was the one that never succumbed to this kind of mindless drivel. I would create through writing, decorating, or planning innovative public health programs. Now, even when I have time I struggle to focus; struggle to keep any sort of disciplined schedule. As I play the game, my mind wanders. It wanders to my mom, a recent widow; to one of my children who is going through a crisis; and then on to other more mundane worries. They all have one thing in common: they are out of my control. What is in my control is pressing five red squares linked together. This will create a rocket, and with that little rocket, I will win this game and claim victory over a machine. And then I will do it again, and again, and again. Until I don’t win, and I restlessly realize that I have just spent an unthinkable amount of time on a phone game.
In The Art of Stillness, author Pico Iyer talks about how many people in Silicon Valley try to observe an internet Sabbath. People take a 24 to 48 hour break from their online jobs creating high tech instruments and content so they can relax and reboot. Employees take this time so that they are at maximum creativity when they return. They rest so they can create programs that keep us, their ever-willing customers, online all the time. It is a profound irony that someone somewhere may have taken an internet Sabbath and then created a game that I now sit and play for hours. I squander my moments of stillness and with it, my ability to create.
I have run out of lives on my game, and so I wait. I wait and I think about what it means to be still; what it means to renew my mind and soul so that I will pay attention; so that I will have both the desire and the will to create.
I live in a city that goes to bed late and gets up in the early morning hours. My first activity as I leave my apartment is to walk 15 minutes to the subway. Noise is immediate and continuous. It’s in the train engine roaring, in people having conversations, in the homeless population at Central Square, sometimes insulting each other and other times laughing, but always loud. I travel three stops to my office in downtown Boston, the busiest section of the city. The pace and demands are relentless, wordlessly declaring that being still is an absurd impossibility. And this creeps into my subconscious mind, so that even when I have time, I have bought into the lie that being still is impossible.
Yet all around, I see evidence of how being still creates life. The small purple flowers of crocuses have just emerged from a still earth. The brown branches of long dormant forsythia have given birth to brilliant yellow flowers. Budding trees and bushes join this holy movement and add their pops of color against a grey April sky and cold sterile buildings. After months of stillness, spring bursts forth like an artist who has taken a sabbatical and moves on to create her greatest work of art.
It is the work of a God whose infinite creativity spoke a world into being, who marked off the dimensions of the earth’s foundations as morning stars sang.
“Where were you
when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you possess understanding!
Who set its measurements—if you know—
or who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its bases set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
when the morning stars sang in chorus,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”*
Between marking off the measurements of the earth’s foundations and laying its cornerstone, was God still? Did he create, and then sit in stillness, communing with members of the Trinity, only to go back days, months, and years later and create more? Has stillness always been a part of creation?
Be still, and breathe.
Be still, and create.
Be still, and bring life.
Be still, and know God.
The lives on the game have refreshed. I pause a minute and realize that what I long for, this game cannot give. Only taking a time to be still will equip me to write the words I long to write, to create the programs I long to create. I reluctantly shut off my phone, the hardest step in the process of disengaging from what has become my adult pacifier. Outside the city is still. Inside, I sit in stillness, my own communion with the holy Trinity. This moment is perhaps the most creative thing I will do today, but it is a start and it is enough.
*Job 38: 4-7 NET
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