The psalmist said, "Be still and know I am God" (Psalm 46:10).
"Be still"..."and know..."
In the Hebrew language, when two coordinate imperatives or imperative verbal forms appear together, as in "Be still" and "know" the emphasis goes to the second command. In other words, what the psalmist is saying could be translated to mean, "Be still in order to know."
Ah! So, knowing follows stillness?
So, what does it mean to "be still?"
Jesus gave a hint when he said, "And, when you pray, go into your closet and shut the door." (Matt. 5:11f).
Closet? Literally? Did he mean this literally? Maybe, he was just speaking symbolically, as in "So when you pray go inside...into your inner world...the world within...and, there, as the psalmist said, "Be still" which probably means, "Be quiet."
Most Christians think of prayer as the words they say. But the most significant kind of praying is the uninterrupted state of oneness...unity...or connectedness you nurture and feel with God. Isn't this what Saint Paul was suggesting when he said, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17).
Is that even possible? For a Benedictine monk maybe. But, how do you and I live in an uninterrupted state of oneness in prayer with God?
The answer is this: Practice the art of going within...this is the secret to knowing God.
Here are five suggestions to make this real:
1. Go daily into this inner world. Develop your own practice but here's how I do it. I spend thirty minutes to one hour every morning entering into "stillness" or "silence." I use headphones, quietly playing instrumental music. No singing. I don't need more words swirling around in my head. Now, until your greatest passion is to know this Presence, you are not ready to embrace this practice. That's not a judgment, just a fact. When you're ready, you'll know it. Some of you are getting there now, otherwise you would not be reading this. Of course, a few of you are reading it because you live to find something to disagree with. One day, you'll grow up. Until then, you'll probably find plenty in what I write.
2. Visualize a mental image of entering into your inner "closet" of quietness, solitude, stillness. I've been making this my spiritual practice for several years. Each morning, as I take several deep breaths to release any unnecessary stress or negativity, I visualize a flight of stairs, twenty steps upward, and I slowly and methodically climb the stairs. I cannot tell you how difficult this is. To stay mentally focused, I mean. It takes vigilance and patience. But, again, if you're serious about knowing God, you'll have both the vigilance and the patience to stay with this practice until you master it. And, my friend, you WILL master the sacred art of knowing God.
3. Use the technique I have provided of the staircase or create one of your own. It really does not matter. What does matter is that it works for you. In the beginning, I struggled many mornings just to reach the top of the stairs. There I was greeted by a closed double door, as in an elevator door. Many mornings I never made it to the top before my mind would become preoccupied with other things...things I had to do that do...places I had to go...something that happened the day before...and so forth. With practice, however, I reached the top more consistently. And, when I did, the next instruction became all the more important.
4. Empty your mind of its incessant stream of thoughts. This will be your greatest challenge. Why? Because from our earliest days, we've been taught to speak...to think. As a grandparent, I admittedly thrill at the thought of my grandchildren learning to speak my name, Papaw. Nothing wrong with this. But, when this is your primary conditioning, as it IS for most of us, then we miss a dimension of existence that is rich with meaning. As a consequence, the biggest challenge to your spiritual life is not learning the right doctrines...not learning how to speak...not learning how to think about God. Instead, it is learning how to be still...to be silent...to turn off the mind and so enter the stillness that is God's Presence.
5. As your mind empties, the door to Presence opens. What do I see with the mind's eye as I'm looking into Presence? I see nothing at all. And yet, I see everything, too. It is pitch black but full of Presence too. Outer space, without the stars and planets, is the nearest corollary. Space is mostly that - space. Emptiness. Nothingness. How long has it been since you've gazed into the heavens and, instead of seeing the stars or trying to name the constellations, just became aware that it is mostly nothing - blackness...spaciousness...Presence. When you cultivate the capacity to see nothing, you have mastered the art of knowing God. Now, there are some mornings, I cannot successfully meditate...enter this blissful state of Presence awareness. But I do not berate myself for this because, as I see it, any meditative practice is better than no practice. What I do know is this: at some point, and I do not remember when, as I have made this my daily practice, the elevator doors into Presence opened one day and have remained open ever since. So, this is the important thing to remember...
6. Remind yourself daily that there is no secret...no effort, and certainly, no magic whatsoever in knowing God. The practice I just described is not so you can arrive at a place of superior spiritual development and so be rewarded with God's continual Presence. Not at all. You are in God's Presence already. The practice I have described is only to help release you of the many years of conditioning that have left you with the feeling that what's important is thinking and speaking. They are, of course. But, what's more important to your spiritual practice is not that you learn to think but that you learn to stop thinking. To just be silent...observe...be aware...and so live in and walk with the Eternal Presence.
If there is anything I've learned it is this: It takes no effort whatsoever to know God. As that nameless but all-encompassing Presence around, beneath, beyond and, most importantly, within you, as you learn to go within you begin to make the greatest spiritual discovery of your life. It is from that place of silence...of emptiness...of no-thing-ness that you meet with the Everything that is. You have found the secret, my friend, the secret that is no secret to knowing God.
God is one with you already. How could you possibly get nearer to You?
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, "I love all religions; but I'm IN LOVE with my own." Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.