09/26/2012 12:55 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

The Urgent Call to Stillness

Each year I go on a silent retreat. This year has been my 24th week spent in silence and contemplation. What a gift! During this time, when I'm able to think deeply and without interruption, I often identify the core issues that energize and inform my sermons over the course of the year.

On an abstract level, we all know it's difficult to make good decisions when we're wrapped up in the frenzy of "normal life." There's simply no time to hear ourselves think. But in stillness, we hear ourselves clearly, and we hear others too. Stillness rings like a bell struck during meditation; it is pure and precious.

I incorporate stillness into my life every single day and it feeds my soul.

It's a Serious Challenge

We're constantly being told to "slow down" and "take it easy." But it's hard to do.

One morning a while back, I hadn't found time for stillness. After a hurried breakfast, I got to my office and turned on my computer. In my inbox was an email marked urgent from one of my parishioners.

He wrote that he'd heard that the boss of a right-wing radio talk show host was on our Board of Governors. "How could a church with our peace and justice agenda elevate to such a level someone whose behavior is so destructive to the health of the country?" he asked me.

I felt attacked by his words. I took his questions and implied criticism personally, and so I reacted with an attitude of defensiveness rather than generosity. I wrote an email back that I soon came to regret.

But It's Infinitely Rewarding

A few days later, I met him after I had started the day with stillness. I felt grounded in knowing and feeling myself and everyone else as beloved. With that perspective, I understood that his intent had never been to challenge me personally or professionally. He had simply meant to raise the question as an item for discussion.

Without the calm and positive energy that comes from accessing stillness, I had read him with the wrong mind-set, in the spirit of fear and with a closed heart. My instinct had been toward defensiveness and dogma.

When we're tired or frenzied and we do not stop for stillness--some form of prayer, meditation, reflection, rest, healthy diversion--we do harm to ourselves. Fear feeds on frenzy and fatigue.

In contrast, the Habit of Stillness, when practiced over time, transforms us as it connects us to our inner sanctuary every day, preventing us from reacting defensively in life and in relationships. With stillness, we are open to life and are lovingly present.