by Mindy Durias
The alarm rings. It’s 5:00am.
I drag myself out of bed, prepare my favorite French pressed coffee, grab my stack of books and settle on the loveseat for the hour or so I have before the rest of the house begins to stir. I read words of wisdom and hope from a Jewish Rabbi, a Buddhist monk, and a Franciscan priest. The words sooth like a healing balm for my longing heart. In the silence, they ring clear and true, resounding in my soul.
Gradually, little ones enter my quiet revelry. I kiss them and send them back to their beds for just a few minutes more, while I read and enjoy the last few sips of coffee.
Ten minutes later, I place my friends back on the book shelf and call the kids out of their rooms. The next hour rushes by like a raging river at flood level. By 7:15am, 3 of the 5 kids are fed, my husband has left the house for a meeting, most morning chores are complete and it’s time for prayer. The 3 youngest kids and I settle in the living room for a 10 minute time of silent reflection. It’s the season of advent, so we focus our thoughts on the Christ light that shines in our darkness. Then they leave to play, while I set out my candle and mat for a 20 minute centering prayer sit alone before the rest of the day’s demands consume my attention. I light my little candle and settle in. Grounded, upright, peaceful. I’m still, silent and alone in the living room.
A w h o l e m i n u t e , m a y b e t w o p a s s b e f o r e t h e y c o m e . The distractions.
I hear the kids and their realistic sounding light sabers reenacting scenes from Star Wars downstairs. One is yelling, “Action!” Another is whining that they don’t want to be Darth Vader again.
I inhale deep and exhale, feeling the rising annoyance in my heart, quickly forcing its way to my tightening throat.
Next the family dog trots into the living room, walks towards me, sniffs my face, passes gas, and exitsleaving a stench that rivals any honey bucket. Trying to remain centered, I breath deeply again, but the lingering smell is overwhelming so instead I hold my breath.
The kids continue their filming downstairs, planes are taking off and landing at the nearby airport. A train rumbles by 300 yards from our house and the wave like sounds of the freeway intensify as rush hour hits.
My teenage son exits his room and lumbers past me to the kitchen to see what’s left from breakfast and the dog returns standing at the sliding door four feet from me, whimpering to be let out.
Inhale, exhale….Inhale. And. Exhale.
My soul calmly says, Yes.
My heart questions, What good does this do?
While my mind screams, Why the hell can’t everything and everyone be quiet for just 20 minutes!
This is reality.
Why do I do this to myself? Wouldn’t it make more sense to practice centering prayer at 5:00am, when not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse? Before people, planes and pets can hijack my attention.
Sometimes I do just that. And it’s wonderful! True bliss. It’s a precious gift to sit in complete silence, stillness and solitude. I know that my heart has emptied and expanded in those undisturbed times. I’ve come to embrace more fully who I am and who I am not. I’ve found a place of unshakeable belonging in the the heart of God through blessed hours spent in complete silence.
But if I’m being honest, sometimes after a quiet and undisturbed prayer sit, instead of gratitude flowing freely, I enter the rest of the day with a discontent that challenging to admit and even harder to shake.
Too often, I’ve left a time of uninterrupted prayer wishing that it would never endwanting that same silence and stillness to last all day long, so that I can feel calm and near to God. But, that desire is itself an illusion, unless I were to abandon my life and become a hermit. My true colors, in these moments, are completely exposed when I enter back into the usual business of daily life as wife, stay at home mom and teacher and struggle to remain calm and present with life taking place all around me. I struggle so to see God within myself and all things and say yes to what is happening through the challenges presenting themselves moment by moment.
This is my life. Noisy, fast paced, ever changing, demanding and relentless. Full of people to love, serve, care for, and listen to. Work to be done and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Does this sound familiar?
I’m sure that my lot is not that unique. In this day and age, what I’ve described is probably seen as just normalthe way things are. So I wonder then, how are we to cultivate silence, stillness and solitude when these very things are so counter cultural?
It’s not too difficult to see the appeal of the desert mothers and fathers, who left all normal way of living to find God. While I’m certain even their lives presented obstacles of their own in the search for union with God, I imagine it being at least a little simpler being.
Embracing and entering fully the blessed life I’ve been given by God, I’m beginning to see that the deep work of transformation within is being greatly assisted in praying with and through the many distractions of life. Why fight them or try and escape them? They will always be there in one form or another. The needs of partners, children, friends and neighbors. Deadlines and obligations of work. The hustle and bustle of a world that never slows down, not even for a single moment of the day.
I am experiencing in the acceptance of distractions that true silence, stillness and solitude is only cultivated within and not at all dependent upon the environment surrounding me. In fact, the distractions serve as a beautifully poignant contrast to the non reactive, gracious and peace-giving presence of God within. They help me to more clearly see the mystery of the divine Presence of God right here, within the mundane and ordinary stuff of life.
Isn’t this what I long for most in silence, stillness and solitude after all? To be present to God in all the moments of my life? To see divine light as it pierces the darkness and hardness of my own soul and the world around me?
Distractions. I can either view them as obstacles that obstruct my view of God within. Or I can choose to see them as the very things that usher me into the presence of God! For Christ, pure heavenly light itself, always shines brightest through chaos and darkness. If only I show up and wait for this light to dawn through the shadows of the blessed distractions in my life.
Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.