Stillness by Desmond Tutu

"Dear Child of God, all of us are meant to be contemplatives. Frequently we assume that this is reserved for some rare monastic life, lived by special people who alone have been called by God. But the truth of the matter is that each one of us is meant to have that space inside where we can hear God's voice. God is available to all of us. God says, 'Be still and know that I am God.' Each one of us wants and needs to give ourselves space for quiet. We can hear God's voice most clearly when we are quiet, uncluttered, undistracted — when we are still. Be still, be quiet, and then you begin to see with the eyes of the heart.

"One image that I have of the spiritual life is of sitting in front of a fire on a cold day. We don't have to do anything. We just have to sit in front of the fire and then gradually the qualities of the fire are transferred to us. We begin to feel the warmth. We become the attributes of the fire. It's like that with us and God. As we take time to be still and to be in God's presence, the qualities of God are transferred to us.

"Far too frequently we see ourselves as doers. As we've seen, we feel we must endlessly work and achieve. We have not always learned just to be receptive, to be in the presence of God, quiet, available, and letting God be God, who wants us to be God. We're shocked, actually, when we hear that what God wants is for us to be godlike, for us to become more and more like God. Not by doing anything, but by letting God be God in and through us.

"I am deeply thankful for those moments in the early morning when I try to be quiet, to sit in the presence of the gentle and compassionate and unruffled One to try to share in or be given some of that divine serenity. If I do not spend a reasonable amount of time in meditation early in the morning, then I feel a physical discomfort — it is worse than having forgotten to brush my teeth! I would be completely rudderless and lost if I did not have these times with God.

"People often ask about the source of my joy and I can honestly say that it comes from my spiritual life — and specifically from these times of stillness. They are an indispensable part of my day regardless of what else I might face. I pray out loud or to myself before every meeting, and before every drive in the car. I also take quiet days when I do not talk — at least until supper. Once a month I take a room at a local convent and spend a day sleeping, eating, praying, and reading, and at least once a year I go on a retreat of three or more days. The importance of these retreats is hard to convey — through them I am strengthened and am able to hear what God is saying and to seek solutions to problems that seem unsolvable. You may think that as a priest I need these times of reflection but that most people who spend their lives in the marketplace do not. In truth, they probably need them all the more, since the noise of the market makes it even more difficult to hear the voice of God.

"I know no other way available to us besides prayer and meditation to cultivate a real and deeply personal relationship with God, our great Lover in whose presence we want to luxuriate, falling into ever greater and deeper silence. This is the silence of love, the stillness of adoration and contemplation — the sort of stillness that is so eloquent when it happens between two who are in love.

"When people begin to pray and to meditate, they inevitably focus on technique. They wonder what they should do, and there are many techniques they can choose from. One that I have used over the years is visualizing actually being present at the events retold in the Gospels. But prayer and meditation are not about doing but about being, and the important thing is not to let techniques dominate. When you learn to swim, you could spend a lot of the time learning strokes out of the water, but the only way to really learn to swim is by swimming. Similarly, in prayer and meditation, you can spend a lot of time on techniques trying to know about God, but the real point of it is to know God.

"We need to realize that God is much closer than we think and to recognize when we have arrived in the presence of God. When you arrive in God's presence you often experience a kind of serenity and have pleasurable sensations. These are called the 'consolations of God.' God uses these consolations to lure us, to bribe us into wanting to be with Him. They are like sweets we use to reward children. As our relationship with God matures, we often no longer experience these sweets when we pray. God reckons that we are no longer childish nor need to be bribed in this way. Just as we give a child the food the child needs, first feeding her milk after she is born but eventually giving her more substantial fare, so God gives us more substantial fare as we mature in our spiritual life. God wants us to love God for who He is, not for what we can get out of Him.

"There comes a time when we evolve, we grow, and we realize that all that actually matters in prayer is being with our Beloved, being with God. Just being together, just like when we're together with the one we love, holding hands and savoring being together with them. Words give way; they are almostĀ· superfluous and totally inadequate. Just as if we were to describe a sunrise or the birth of a child, the most eloquent thing is silence. We don't always need to be talking with the one we love. Sitting there in silence or listening to music is almost indescribably satisfying and sweet. That is what it's like to be with God in these times of satisfaction and joy.

"We arrive and yet the journey continues, as we grow ever more in our God awareness. This God awareness is shown by our God likeness, and how we are increasingly becoming what we love. People tend to look like the things they love — which is why so many people end up looking like their dogs! But we can also look like God if we love God and strive to be like God."