I’m a huge fan of the Enneagram. In fact, “fan” doesn’t really do it justice. Determined advocate? Devotee? Something more like that. The primary reason I love this model of human behavior is that its consistently accurate, diamond-sharp insights enable the kind of transformation that empowers people to live out a fuller measure of their destiny.
But the Enneagram is not the only tool in this box. I use and advocate other tools as well, and a stillness practice is one of the most important. I’m paraphrasing here, but Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute says that without awareness and presence, the Enneagram is essentially useless. And a stillness practice is a difficult but powerful way to invite and create more awareness and presence.
So, I was delighted to receive a review copy of Amos Smith’s Be Still and Listen: Experience the Presence of God in Your Life. This deceptively short book is chock-full of goodness: wisdom, personal anecdotes and practical advice to help people see that it actually is possible to experience and hear from God. And isn’t that what most people long for?
Even the preface is inspiring, if you can believe that. Smith offers this disclaimer: “Accusations of derangement seem to be an occupational hazard of Christian mystics dating back to at least the sixth century.” I would add that mystics of all faiths have dealt with this accusation. I just finished a Great Course called Mystical Tradition: Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and humans have historically misunderstood and even persecuted and killed humans who stepped outside the “norm” of accepted religious practice.
Yet, what does “mystic” even mean? I actually looked it up a while ago in response to a friend’s statement that her pastor occasionally says things like, “Would you extend your hand out to this person as we pray? Don’t worry; there’s nothing mystical about that.”
Here’s the definition: “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.”
This definition, too, is why both the Enneagram and stillness are necessary for the true self to emerge. Things that are beyond the intellect—which, let’s be honest, describes most of what we “know” about God—can’t be discerned or experienced with the intellect. Faith is designed to become an experiential relationship. God is not a list of facts. Your brain can only take you so far.
Smith’s book is divided into three sections: Entering the Desert, Struggling and Healing, and The Undivided Heart. Entering the Desert is about challenging our lack of awareness and inability to listen. He introduces centering prayer and discusses what it means to be a Christian mystic today. Each chapter contains questions for reflection and discussion that are actually not lame.
Struggling and Healing begins with the admonition from Maximus the Confessor, “Do not reject hardship.” Ouch. That hits this Self-Preservation Seven HARD. As it should. In this section, we look at the true struggle that freedom entails, being willing to embrace our tears, fears and frailties. Smith points out through numerous examples that to become the true self, the old self must die. And that doesn’t feel good. Not initially, but it’s worth it.
The Undivided Heart invites us to see what it means to be God’s temple, what it means to have the kingdom of God within us. Smith discusses the ideas of God being our refuge and of our becoming “downwardly mobile” as we learn to serve with humility, the natural consequence of consistently experiencing God’s presence.
The goal of this book is to “cultivate actual experience” rather than just read another interesting book on prayer. Smith reminds us that “contemplation is not something we ‘achieve’; we commit to the discipline of centering prayer and then “fall into contemplation like falling into a river.” He goes on to encourage us with this truth: “Any art form worth doing well, such as playing the violin, requires daily practice.”
Well said, Amos Smith! I’ve been dabbling with centering prayer for several years now but finally committed to daily practice last year. I recommend that “art” practice to everyone, and I recommend this book, as well.
You can pick it up here: https://amzn.to/2LDoNcr.
Quick Start Guide to Centering Prayer
This short guide gives you the essentials for learning to be still and quiet before God so you can hear his voice and feel his love in a deeper way.