Introductory Note:

Carolyn Arends poses a provocative question: “Is a life of loving attention to God only available to folks who enjoy the luxury of expendable time?”

For a variety of reasons, we all find times in our lives when it is more difficult to create “rhythms of deep and intentional connection with our Creator.” Our lives and schedules are sometimes more complicated than we have control over. Sometimes our rhythms change and a beloved practice that has connected us with God is no longer possible in the same way.

Carolyn suggests that we can make “subversively simple tweaks” to reclaim sustaining practices, while also strengthening our “capacity to recognize God in the times of anything-but-stillness.”

Renovaré Team
July 2022

Years ago, I had the great fun of trav­el­ing across Cana­da with two fel­low record­ing artists — Steve Bell and Bob Ben­nett — in a con­cert series dubbed The Liv­ing Room Tour.” Each night we per­formed in a songwriter’s round, tak­ing turns offer­ing songs, back­ing each oth­er up, and delight­ing in each other’s work.

One night dur­ing a tour stop in Kelow­na, Steve intro­duced a song called Pleas­ing to You.” He described the way he’d been read­ing Psalm 19 dur­ing a sun-kissed morn­ing in his home in a rur­al area out­side of Win­nipeg. The house was qui­et,” he explained. As I looked out the east­ern win­dow, the birds were singing, the deer were afoot, and I even caught a glimpse of the mag­nif­i­cent red fox that would some­times shim­mer by. Soon, a song began to well up with­in me …”.

The audi­ence was lean­ing in, trans­fixed by the pic­ture Steve was so expert­ly paint­ing. I, on the oth­er hand, was feel­ing some­thing oth­er than a song welling up with­in me. I was think­ing of my own home, filled as it was in those days with the joy­ful and not-so-joy­ful sounds of my two very young and active chil­dren. I was try­ing to remem­ber the last time I had spent even five min­utes in reflec­tive silence.

Steve,” I inter­rupt­ed, can I just say … how very nice for you!” The audi­ence instant­ly caught the note of sar­casm in my voice and erupt­ed into laugh­ter. There was a swell of (most­ly fem­i­nine) cheer­ing. Years lat­er, Steve would tell me that sud­den burst of per­spec­tive was one of his favourite moments of the tour.

My own kids are teenagers now, and though life is still busy, it’s eas­i­er to find pock­ets of qui­et than it used to be. I’ve come to deeply appre­ci­ate the crit­i­cal impor­tance of set­ting apart time for prayer and still­ness. Thus, it was with great enthu­si­asm that I recent­ly found myself extolling the virtues of a con­tem­pla­tive life to a class­room full of adult stu­dents whilst co-teach­ing a sum­mer course at Regent College.

But even as I was mak­ing the case for the val­ue of sus­tained, atten­tive silence, I noticed flick­ers of exas­per­a­tion cross more than a few faces — young moms, har­ried dads, over­worked busi­ness lead­ers, and even exhaust­ed min­is­ters. I knew instant­ly what they were think­ing. How very nice for you!

Is a con­tem­pla­tive life — a life of lov­ing atten­tion to God — only avail­able to folks who enjoy the lux­u­ry of expend­able time?

As I review the var­i­ous sea­sons of my own life — most of them, to some extent, demand­ing — I find myself draw­ing two con­clu­sions. The first is that it real­ly has been of crit­i­cal impor­tance to find, on a reg­u­lar basis, at least some small mea­sure of time to spend inten­tion­al­ly sync­ing my heart with God’s. As Richard Fos­ter has point­ed out, we can only live up to our respon­si­bil­i­ties when we have response-abil­i­ty” — the capac­i­ty to respond to what­ev­er life throws at us with appro­pri­ate patience, wis­dom and grace. Such response-abil­i­ty typ­i­cal­ly requires rhythms of deep and inten­tion­al con­nec­tion with our Creator.

Find­ing the nec­es­sary time requires cre­ativ­i­ty, inten­tion­al­i­ty, and more than a lit­tle help from our friends. But it’s pos­si­ble through sub­ver­sive­ly sim­ple tweaks, like get­ting up a bit ear­li­er to talk over the com­ing day with God, turn­ing the radio off to fos­ter still­ness on a com­mute, or nego­ti­at­ing with fam­i­ly or co-work­ers to allow for the occa­sion­al mini-retreat from nor­mal routines.

The sec­ond thing I notice, how­ev­er, is that, while carv­ing out time for qui­et con­tem­pla­tion has been essen­tial, it’s been equal­ly impor­tant to attend to the move­ment of God in even the nois­i­est parts of my life. It is one (beau­ti­ful) thing to catch a glimpse of God in a sun-drenched coun­try­side. But is anoth­er (equal­ly beau­ti­ful) thing to find him in a messy kitchen or a pres­sure-filled board­room. One of the great fruits of times of still­ness, in fact, should be an increased capac­i­ty to rec­og­nize God in the times of anything-but-stillness.

Years ago, watch­ing the sun come up, my friend Steve read, The law of the Lord is per­fect, refresh­ing the soul” (Psalm 19:7). Tonight, work­ing long past sun­set, I read those same words, and I know that they are true. 

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the Sep/​Oct 2017 edi­tion of Faith Today.

Pho­to by Natal­ie Grainger on Unsplash

Text First Published August 2017 · Last Featured on July 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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