Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recollection: Ushering Us into Stillness

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NASB)

Recollection is the gentle re-gathering of our thoughts and refocusing or our attention on the Lord’s reality in our lives. This inner reorientation does not happen by chance—it is intentional.

Such recollection is not the absence of craziness going on in our lives. It will never happen if we wait for all of our problems to first be resolved.

Rather, we learn to recollect ourselves in the midst of demands, frustrations, deep disappointments, and a plethora of life’s concerns. Recollection is the riveting of our focus on the Lord, his love and his provision—precisely in the midst of our anxieties. Recollection takes our anxieties and releases them to the Lord. “Be anxious for nothing,” we are commanded.

As we consciously recollect ourselves on a regular basis, we will more and more often experience a phenomenal inner stillness.

That is what the next verse of Philippians 4 promises, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The more we practice recollection the more we will encounter such stillness. We may not necessarily experience it all the time—and we cannot try to “work it up”—but we will experience God’s peace and stillness.

We cannot create that stillness; however, we can cultivate it. Just like the flowers in our back yard—I cannot create the blossoms, but I can cultivate the plants so that in due season they bloom. So also in my life, I can cultivate recollection and stillness. In time, that inner peace will blossom.

Inner stillness is an inner calmness. It is a place where we rest in God, “for in him is eternal stillness.” [1]

Inner stillness is like a garden in the midst of a hectic city. The summer I lived in Paris, I used to visit a number of little parks or gardens near the school where I was taking classes. Even though it was in the middle of a bustling city, there was calmness, focus, quietness—despite the din of traffic that surrounded that place.

So God offers us stillness in the midst of all our life’s challenges—if we will but enter that inner garden that he offers us.

[1] Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollständige Ausgabe, edited by Georg Hofmann (Freiburg: Herder, 1961), p. 150.

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recollection: Returning to the Inner Sanctuary

How often we as believers try to live out the Christian life pretty well on our own strength. We have a few moments with the Lord in the morning—reading a bit of Scripture and praying for the events of the day. Then, in effect, we leave God behind and do the best we can to handle what life throws at us for the next twelve hours.

If I hope to walk in the peace that Jesus promises us as his followers, however, I need to periodically return my focus to him throughout the day. I need to recollect myself, gathering my scattered attention in order to attend to God’s presence. I need to re-connect myself with the Lord and the inner peace he offers.

Even in the midst of many things demanding my attention, I can gently shift my awareness on the Lord’s love for me—only if for a moment—renewing my connection with him while fulfilling all of my responsibilities.

“A practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into the inner sanctuary,” asserts Thomas Kelly. “There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”[1]

To aid my focus on the Lord throughout the day, it is helpful for me to take periodic breaks. These are seldom convenient. In fact, it is in the most hectic times that I need these respites the most.

That is how a “timeout” functions in sports. When the team is hard-pressed and harried is precisely when the coach calls the timeout. Ironically, we have the sense to institute timeouts in the games we play, but most of us fail to incorporate similar timeouts into the real world of our lives!

Radical believers who have gone before us have recognized the need for such times to pull back from the demands of the day. During the Middle Ages, many who wanted to live a genuine Christian life became monks and nuns. In the convent they followed the rhythm of ora et labora (prayer and work) established by Benedict of Nursia. Amid their manual labors, they would pull apart seven times each day (and once in the middle of the night) to go into the chapel to hear God’s Word and pray. That rhythm kept them from becoming consumed by the work at hand.

You and I can do something very similar. We have our own copies of the Bible today, so we don’t need to meet in one place to hear Scripture read. Instead we can pull apart at coffee break or lunchtime to read a Scripture passage. During nice weather we can take a walk by ourselves outside to talk with the Lord. We can stay seated at our desks and close our eyes for a few moments to review a Bible verse we have memorized.

Just like a timeout in the middle of a sports game gives the team a brief rest and refocuses their attention, so several brief times of recollection throughout the day help us tremendously to renew our attentiveness to the Lord. They help to center our minds and to restore peace in our hearts.

Recollection in Practice
For myself, I have found a combination of a couple timeouts during the day, along with a continual “return of the soul into the inner sanctuary” help me to recollect my inner self. When I do so, I find myself walking in peace during the most hectic of days.

As Isaiah 26:3 (KJV) promises:
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”
[1] Thomas R. Kelley, A Testament of Devotion (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1941, 1992), pp. 8-9.

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers