Jan 14

A little over a year I chose “behold” as my word of the year. For 2021 I am choosing “stillness.” Similar? Yes, in some ways, but very different in others.

I pray in the morning. On New Year’s Day morning, I woke up early and before leaving to run, I prayed and resolved to spend 2021 finding my way back. Back to where? Back to finding the foundation of my faith and trying to find my faith in people. It is most simply explained as a crisis of understanding the words and decisions of others. 2020 pushed me away and off the road I was on. I left confused and hurt. But, for 2021, I am determined that I will not allow those voices and words to echo in my head any longer. They are not the words that matter. I need to re-center and re-focus on the words of my God. So far, however, the reality of our world is not helping.

It seems totally appropriate to do this in 2021 since it has been designated the year of St. Joseph. Brother John Badu Affum points out that, “despite playing all these critical and significant roles in the life of the Holy Family, Joseph is silent in the scripture. The gospels do not record even a single word or a spoken verse for him, yet his influence, significance, and relevance cannot be underestimated. That is the power of silence.”

I have been reading theological texts. I highly recommend The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. Apologetics are about giving a reasoned explanation for the faith.  It explains, defends the Faith using scripture, the teaching of the Early Church Fathers,  and common sense. It has deepened my personal faith and gives me an outlet to study, learn, and hopefully understand. I am seeking reasons for many things in the world and in life. I hold onto hope from Scripture.  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16). It is powerful to hold Scripture close.

For every question, there is an answer in Scripture. I see that. But there is so much noise out in the world. I read the clear, powerful messages of Pope Francis – about humility, simplicity, and respect. He “gets it” and speaks to those who struggle, reminding the faithful of what is really important. I research and read the books, blogs, and sermons of priests daily. Then I reflect. That time quiets the noise and the hurt. I bought cleats for my running shoes so I can stay outside this winter and not be pushed into a gym with a mask on a treadmill. That hour in the cold, hearing the sound of my shoes on the snow and street (no ear buds, music or anything), that time quiets the noise and hurt.

The last week has been amazing outside with the frost and the trees. I heard complaints about the cloudy, dreary days, but the fog and frost has made nature so beautiful. I prayed to myself, often, to keep the winds calm so the frost would hold on. Yes, I was hoping for the clouds to keep the beauty. To me the fog and frost were peaceful. To achieve it, there must be a stillness. In response, you slow down to admire it and you take additional time to drive safely. It really represented what I am searching for.

Through all this, there is stillness I am seeking inside – instead my heart and head, along with patience. It is not stillness in terms of resigning myself to being a couch potato. Quite the opposite, it is separation from the noise of falsehood, blame, distrust that are ever prevalent on the news, in electronic communication including social media, and in circles of people. These are the things people do when they have too much time and are stuck in echo chambers. Instead I seek simplicity and separation from all that. I am holding on tight to my hope, while no longer lending my voice to the noise. I wait for direction from my God. If we have learned anything from Scripture and the stories, especially in the Old Testament, is that God, while present, will respond in His time. Meanwhile, I find God in my reading, in my work with students and hospice patients, in milking cows and feeding calves, in the cold dark mornings on my runs. I wait and channel Mary, and not Martha, for a change. Trying is the key word there. I have always, always, been Martha. Spending 2021 thinking more like Mary will be a challenge. It is not that Martha is wrong or bad, but Jesus said “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part” (Luke 10: 41-42). Jesus did not want Martha to miss the discussion, and the time spent listening. Am I missing a peace that comes with stillness and silence? That is my 2021 question. I have resolved that my hope and trust belong with the Lord. Scripture tells us over and over who we can rely on and whose voice really matters.

So these are my Scripture verses for 2021.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

“You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed.” 2 Chronicles 20:17

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Pope Francis has said truth is humble, silent and is not noisy, acknowledging that what Jesus did is not easy. As the shouts got louder and louder on Good Friday, Jesus remained silent. Jesus also acknowledged that people do not understand the harm they cause. Often though it feels like they just do not care.

“With people lacking good will, with people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family: silence, prayer. May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent. This applies to every part of life: to work, at home, in society…” (Pope Francis)

With stillness, I hope by the end of 2021, I will have found my way and found a place of peace and belonging.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

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