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Friday, December 28, 2012

Meditation, Part 2 - Be Still and Know God

As we learned in previous posts, if you truly want to commune with God, you must first “tune in” to Him… on a special “frequency” that resonates only His “signal.”   

Empty Your Cup

First, a story:

There once was a Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire and learn about Zen.

It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup is overfull, no more will go in,” he said.

“Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” 

Like the university professor, our cups are overflowing with cares, concerns and worries about ourselves, our families, our jobs, our health, the world, as well as the past, present and future.

Life is noisy – metaphorically, if not literally. It can be hard to stop, because we’ve got a lot of things going on.  Our “Restless Spirit Syndrome” causes us to think about, worry about and dream about a lot.  Like Elijah, we keep running, often motivated by fear and anxiety. 

Start by Shedding the Telestial

A friend once taught me an interesting strategy on how we can "empty our cup" and prepare to receive God.  It's based on Matthew 19:21-24:
21 Jesus said unto him [the young man], If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
In this case, "the eye of a needle" the Savior was mentioning wasn't a sewing needle.  You see, in the days of Christ, walls surrounded cities for protection against invading enemies.  Gates were set in the walls to allow people and materials to come and go.  These gates were closed at night and in times of danger, but it was still necessary to allow a limited flow of people in and out.  Therefore, built into the large gates was a small door which could be opened to let someone in or out.  This small door was called "the eye of the needle."

Back then, they didn't have Fords or Chevys to transport personal goods, so they used camels.  They would be piled high with merchandise and goods to be traded.  So, if you came to the gates after they had been closed and needed to enter, you needed to take all your merchandise off your camel, who could then pass through the "eye of the needle" by kneeling down and crawling.

We are no different.  For us to pass into heaven -- or even into the heavenly presence -- we must strip all our telestial cares, concerns and worries from us.  Just...set them aside.  Focus on those things which are spiritual and eternal, then kneel in humility.

Many geologic eons ago, when I was in college, I was asked to give a sister in my ward a blessing.  I was pretty nervous because I was a newly-ordained elder, and although I’d seen blessings given in the past, I’d never given one.  A few minutes before I laid my hands on this sister’s head, a thought struck me:

“Pretend your mind is a chalkboard.  Be calm, be still and focus on erasing all everything off of it.  When there’s nothing left on the chalkboard – when it’s all blank – place your hands on her head, and I’ll write the words I want you to say on the chalkboard of your mind.”

Ever since then, I’ve followed that inspired counsel I received not by any mortal, but by God.

When you try to “tune in” to God, what else is going on in your environment and within you?  Are there people, thoughts or environmental sounds, sights or smells that could distract you? Are you so immersed in the cares and the concerns of the world that they seem to be obstructing your view of God?

Just “what” are you tuned in to?

I challenge you to recognize the things you need to “tune out.” As you do, you’ll make a giant step in being able to “tune in” to the divine frequency.

Be Still to Tune In

It should be clear by now that God will show up not in the noise...but in the quiet.

God’s “frequency” (if it could be called that) has been described as “still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13; D&C 85:6).  President Boyd K. Packer reminds us:

“The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, January 1983, 53).

Luckily, God told us how we can perceive the still small voice that whispers and gently caresses our souls:

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

The phrase “be still” is pronounced “raphah” in Hebrew.  It means to cast down; to let fall; to let hang down; then, to be relaxed. Yet in a religious context, raphah means “stop, cease your own striving and watch the Lord do His work.”

The Savior used “raphah”, too:

“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39)

The Lord also used the phrase “be still” to comfort the Saints as they were enduring great persecution:

“Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16)

Three notes about being still:

First, Moses used “raphah” in Exodus 14:13, saying "Stand still, and see the salvation of God."  Soon thereafter, through the power of God, he divided the Red Sea.

Interestingly, as the Israelites passed on dry ground inside the parted Red Sea, they didn’t divert to the left or the right; they just kept moving straight ahead.  Likewise, when you avoid contemplating the past or the future, but instead stay focused on the present, you are on spiritual “dry ground” – you can effectively “be still” and “see the salvation of God.” It is no wonder that the Savior said,

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. 6:34)

Second, when you "empty your cup" by shedding your telestial baggage, you become far more open to new learning.  You're teachable by the Spirit.  Why?  Because you're replacing insecurity and defensiveness -- fear -- with faith...the same kind of faith that can move mountains with just the spoken word.  A bit of advice, if I may: Be one who is constantly emptying his or her cup and taking in new ideas.  As you do so, you'll not only be mentally and emotionally preparing yourself for meditation, but you'll also be developing humility.

Third, “Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” (Jackie Chan, "The Karate Kid")  Being still, motionless, silent, quiet, tranquil and calm is not the same as doing nothing.   

In fact, in being still, you are moving onward and upward…to the presence of the Lord.

In our next post, we’ll discuss some strategies for being still. 

(If you have any suggestions, feel free to submit them as a “comment” below).


  1. I have heard about the small entry gate as "the eye of the needle"many times. Many believe it never existed and this is true hyperbole or a mistranslation for 'camel' which should actually be 'rope (the words are very similar in Hebrew). Where can you verify that the small doorway actually existed?'.

  2. Good question!

    The story re: the gate-based "eye of a needle" has been around since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. One may see such gates today in Jerusalem and Damascus, where there is ample photographic evidence of such gates (which local tour guides will call them by the term "eye of the needle"). However, there are no such gates dating prior to the 12th century AD (could this be because the Romans obliterated much of Old Jerusalem?).

    The Greek words for rope (ka' mi los) and camel (ka' me los) are very similar, and it has been suggested that there was a confusion of the Greek words. I think this is natural, because a rope, after all, has an obvious affinity to a thread, whereas camel clearly does not.

    Yet it's my understanding that the oldest biblical manuscripts are unanimous in reading kamelos, i.e., camel. These codices include:

    Sinaiticus - 4th century
    Vaticanus - 4th century
    Ephraemi - 5th century
    Bezae Cantabrigiensis - 5th century
    Regius - 8th century
    Washington Freer - 4th/5th century
    Dublinensis - 5th/6th century

    This reading of "rope" for "camel" was first found in a manuscript penned in 949 AD, and copied into a few other manuscripts. I can just imagine some scribe way back when coming across kamelos and saying, "Hey, wait a minute, the word for camel is kamelos and the word for rope is kamilos! This is a no brainer -- since it's mentioning a needle, the word ought to be kamilos." However, other sacred literature passages mention a large animal (not a cable or rope) passing through the eye of a needle -- for example, Jewish Talmudic literature includes "They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle" (Berakoth, 55b) and "...who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle" (Baba Mezi'a, 38b). In Babylon, the elephant (not the camel) was the common "goods transporter."

    The fact is, over the course of time, scribes inadvertently and/or intentionally changed words along the way, leaving us with a very error-ridden book of scripture -- a copy of copy of a copy of these books, often transliterated many years later. So, as with many passages in the Bible, we're left to choose whether we believe one interpretation or another.

  3. Your writing has me going back to some things I wrote when I was in my early twenties during the Vietnam War. I was a sentry dog handler and, with my dear canine friend, walked many hours through grassy fields. I learned to love solitude. I had something then that has become somewhat suppressed, but never totally gone away. Something that revolved around solitude. I would submit to you that there are different approaches to reaching the silence where God exists. Blanking out your thoughts is legitimate and valuable; but if you can, within your solitude, allow yourself to drink in, taste, smell, feel the beauty around you, God will be dwelling therein; and you can then carry your solitude internally with you into places like... even Grand Central Station.

    When Checkers and I were out in those fields, I often would write my thoughts down on a piece of paper by flashlight or whatever was available. I'd like to share one of those writings from so long ago; just to share something that is still meaningful to me today in the hope that some kindred soul among your blog readers might find it meaningful as well:

    Have you wandered o're the hilltops,
    through the valleys of this land?
    Have you found a star to guide you
    And a friend to hold your hand?

    Have you seen the silver lining
    of a cloudy moonlit sky?
    Or known the loving patience
    of a mother's gentle sigh?

    In the whisper of the early morning breeze,
    as it softly greets the dawning
    Winging gently through the trees...
    There's a silence and a stillness
    in the rustling of the leaves.

    There's a silence and a stillness
    and a chill that fills the air;
    As the earth awakens gently,
    nods its head,
    and says a prayer.
    As the earth awakens slowly,
    nods its head,
    and says a prayer.

    Oh there's meaning in this world
    of misery and strife...
    Where pride and hate and war
    make misery of life.

    There's meaning and there's beauty
    and fulfillment from above...
    If only man will listen,
    and turn hatred into love.

    If man will only listen
    to the silence in his soul.
    If man will stop and listen,
    then continue towards his goal.

    1. So beautiful, the poem is pulsating with life on the beauty and the grandeur in silence of nature and how you feel it at that moment..