Adding by Subtraction: Reflecting on an Experience of God

Life is complicated.

…Nothing new, right?  And it seems too, for us humans, we feel the need to make it more and more complicated as each year passes. Somehow, while we were developing as mammals, we came up with this crazy idea that adding meant we’d get more out of our experience of living. But I think we’ve all found, at different times in our lives, that this existence is strange; and you can’t always count on linear reality being the only reality which guides us, or impacts us. Sometimes life seems to contradict itself; and that’s okay.  Because in the end, what’s happening is our perception or understanding of what living is, is being changed, or contradicted, not the essence of living itself.

I know that sounds kind of strange and vague, but I think it winds around to make sense if we let our minds wander a while.

The point I’m circling around right now is actually a lot simpler than I just made it sound, which brings us back to the point; and that is I believe by doing all of this adding, we often subtract from our quality of living. It’s a strange and paradoxical truth, but a truth all the same.  Sometimes we need to pull ourselves away from the millions of things cluttering our days and our minds. We need to pull ourselves away from our e-mails, and our smartphones, and our lists of the thousands of things we mistakenly believe we need to do in order to keep our lives from falling apart, and just let ourselves be.

I experienced the blessing of doing this tonight, and I can say that I returned home with my chest breathing deeper; my arms, my back, and my muscles resting looser; and my mind and heart moving calmer and more peacefully than I’ve felt in quite a while.

What I was blessed to do tonight, was spend some time with God.

At six o’clock, I sat down with a friend and several strangers in a circle. I was invited to a group in a denomination I’m unfamiliar with, so it was a very cool journey of surprises, and wondering what on earth was going on.  As I seated myself in the circle, almost immediately, we all went from exchanging small talk to quiet. Everyone started settling themselves deeper into the cushions of their chairs, and the minister in charge of this particular gathering looked to me (the only new face), and told me we’d go immediately into meditation.  She held a bell up in her hand, and said, “The bell will ring, and that will start our time of silence. After the twenty minutes has passed, the bell will ring again, and we’ll all regroup.”

My first reaction was a nod, then immediately my brain rewound her words and played them back. The next thought which went through my mind was, “—Jesus Christ! Did she say twenty minutes??”  (We were meditating in a sanctuary, of course, so don’t worry, those words were not spoken in vain!)

The idea of being in quiet for so long was at first daunting, but became quickly enticing. I hadn’t allowed myself to be still for that amount of time in quite a while, and looked forward to the chance to relax.  So I settled back, and stared out for a bit.  At first I was extremely cognizant of the sound of my swallowing.  After this, I noticed my teeth trying to clench, as they clicked against each other on and off while I tilted my head down. At first I believed this to be a sign of mounting stress, then realized it was only because I was unwinding, that I noticed my teeth clenching at all, and that I must often grind them unconsciously. As I realized this, the clicking stopped.

Time went on, and my mind started calming slightly more, though still a thousand thoughts ran.  Being a pastor, I found myself trying to think of the ways I could apply this experience to a spiritual lesson. I found myself actually trying to organize my thoughts for this blog!  Each time this inclination came, I had to stop myself. I had to force myself to let my thoughts go, and to search for God, rather than lose the experience by trying to capture it as a way to help other people search themselves. The thoughts still ran, but over time, I allowed them to get away, instead of trying to catch them; and soon my mind began settling to peace. My breathing slowed and deepened, and I finally saw only the dark, bringing a peaceful, and unfortunately seldom-felt, light to my mind.

In the stillness,  I began to approach the presence of God.

In the silence, I was finally opening myself to hear God speak.

Removing ourselves from the pile of things which bury us each day, and remembering who we are after subtracting all of the extra stuff, adds to our experience and understanding of ourselves. Detaching ourselves from all of the distractions of this complicated world helps us to connect more fully with God (with Life), and pay more attention to the peace of simply being.

I was blessed by God tonight to find a place to let this happen.

Starting at the end of this month, we’ll be gathering together like this each week at Deer Park. The first time will be at 7:00pm on Wednesday, September 28th, if you’d like to come.












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1 Comment »

  • Deer Park UMC

    Hi Susan~

    I’d love to spread the content of the DPUMC “Adding by Subtracting” blog to the RethinkChurch website. Thanks for your interest! Keep me updated!

    –Pastor Laura Hehner

    Comment | September 20, 2011

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