How do you respond to the word ‘stillness’? Do you associate it with balance, counterpoise, equilibrium, order, quietness? Or with inaction, stagnation, recession, passivity? Is stillness dynamic or static? Is it the goal we should be pursuing or a condition we should get out of as soon as possible? As meditators we might say, ‘it all depends’ because meditators like to have the best of both worlds. And they can.


Probably it does depend on circumstances but there can (still) be a preference for or against the concept. Behind that preference might lurk either a fear about or a longing towards stillness. If you are overactive, stillness will seem attractive. If you’re bored, out of work or in quarantine stillness is the last thing you want. Polarising opposite views, even over the meaning of a harmless little word like this, leads to a feeling of conflict which is often based on the sense that ‘if I don’t get everything, I might end up with nothing’. And so, the person who disagrees with me, who appears to be on the other side of a river flowing faster than thought and without bridges in sight, is my enemy. He therefore doesn’t have as much right to exist as I do. The sense of potential deficiency – even what I think I have might be taken away from me, becomes inflamed.
The pro and anti-Trump factions in the US, the Remainers and Leavers in the UK have generated a deep sense of division and disunity. Rebuilding dialogue and the spirit of trust will be the hard work for both societies for years to come. Where in the world has this not been felt? Divisions upset the balance of civil society and stillness, a calming of factionalism and mutual rejection, has at least some attraction. The question is how.
The ‘it all depends’ approach is inadequate. The answer is not either/or, but both and both in harmony. The most practical way to achieve the blend of dynamic stillness and harmonious activity is to sacrifice willingly time for the work of stillness. Because human nature is prone to over-activity (physical, economic or mental), the challenge, as the Martha and Mary story makes clear, is to protect the element of stillness and silence; and to appreciate it as an essential part of human well-being. The life of Jesus, exemplifying how human beings should live, included periods of solitude and quiet as well as times of busy external action.
Stillness is inherent in the good life. Along with prayer and fasting, justice touches the centre where stillness is found. All three are aspects of doing Lent well. It is about balance, always hard won and hard to maintain, whether in our personal or social life.

Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021