My husband and I met in February of 1992 at a Michael Bolton concert.  Yes, that’s right, Michael Bolton brought us together.  But that’s another story.  

Randy (my husband – I have no idea about Michael) kept a very tidy apartment and acquired note-worthy cooking skills.  After we got married, he introduced me to one of his specialties that we still talk about today.  We don’t eat it, just talk about it.  I call it goulash.  I don’t think he had a better name for it.  At the time, as newlyweds living in a small apartment saving money for a house, it was an economical meal that we had fairly often.  I know there are countless versions of it.  Simply toss together any combination of edible ingredients is all you need to personalize your own goulash recipe.  And for the sake of sustenance and nutrition – enjoy! 

I didn’t grow up eating goulash.  We were picky eaters at my house.  I did grow up surrounded by many varieties of potpourri.  An aromatic assortment of dried flowers, herbs, nuts, berries, and wood chips steeped in essential oils.  It is an attractive substance for both the eyes and nose.  Sometimes my mom would just open the top of the bag and set it behind the couch.  You really didn’t know where the scent was coming from.  Other times she’d empty the bag into a crystal rose bowl or wicker basket and set it out on a side table.  It often looked so delicious that you wanted to grab a handful and pop it in your mouth.  The array and combination of scents range from “Sweet Smell of Christmas” to “Funny Smell of Great-grandma’s House”.  And for the sake of stimulating your senses – enjoy!

Other medleys to ponder:

Swimming medley – every muscle in my body begins to feel like jello just thinking back to the summer Olympics watching athletes execute with grace and stamina the freestyle, breast, back, and butterfly strokes.   We should really consider coming up with a competitive medley more folks could participate in – the floating dog paddle tread medley should be submitted to the IOC.

Musical medley – this is my favorite kind of medley.  When our congregation sings “How Great is Our God with How Great Thou Art”, angels in the highest Heaven sing.  However, an over-ambitious Christmas carol medley such as, “Jingle Bells with Jingle Bell Rockin Around the/O Christmas Tree” is a little too much ding-a-linging evergreen for me and most angels.

Spiritual transformation is another medley.  The combination of listening to the voice of your soul, examining the condition of your soul and considering an alternate way of exercising your soul, brings one to genuine transformation.  The process of transformation is often found in ways and places we don’t spend a lot of time investigating.  We seek quick convenience and commonplace.  Only when we find ourselves in a sloppy heap of desperation and confusion do we finally give in to a condensed prayer of appeals and requests. 

People wanted to kill Elijah.  So he ran to the wilderness to escape. After many days of traveling, he found a cave to rest.  God spoke to him there.  He told Elijah to go out to stand on the mountain for he was about to pass by. 

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle. 1 Kings 19:11-13

What in the world does “sheer silence” sound like?  I think when you hear it – really hear it – your soul knows.  In order for Elijah to hear the sheer silence he had to remove himself from the chaos and death that were after him.   Now, you may be thinking I’m about to launch into a list of reasons and ways to have a better quiet time.  But this goes deeper than quiet time.  It’s a level of listening, examining, and considering that we don’t often practice.  We don’t know how.   In her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, Ruth Haley Barton says, “Solitude and silence are not self-indulgent exercises for times when an overcrowded soul needs a little time to itself.  Rather, they are concrete ways of opening to the presence of God beyond human effort and beyond the human constructs that cannot fully contain the Divine”.  We live in a culture that neither encourages nor supports our abstinence of productivity – even in minuscule amounts.  The notion of entering into solitude and silence challenges everything around us – our culture, relationships and our lofty ideas of who we think we are.  The sheer silence of the soul is a risky place to explore.  You don’t know what you’ll find. And when you do, then what?  And for what purpose? 

All are invited down this path of transformation.  Accept the invitation to solitude and silence and yield to it. Don’t rush it. There, God will soothe your tiredness, quiet your fretfulness, and curb your aimlessness.  Dwell in his presence and you will find the sheer silence to be deafening.  Be easy and be gathered.  Why?  For the sake of others.  In our yielded easiness God’s love saturates our soul.  And much like saturated flowers in a bag of potpourri, we are a pleasing essence to others.  A different kind of productivity. 

As a child I learned that JOY comes when we put Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.  I still believe that.  But I also believe that consistent soul keeping brings JOY – among other things.  The Bible is full of medleys:

Clothe yourselves in tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col. 3:12

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Gal. 5:22-23

God blesses those who mourn, are humble, who hunger and thirst for justice, are merciful, are pure, who work for peace, and who are persecuted for doing right.  Matt. 5:3-10

May we seek unconventional and difficult paths to transformation.  May we draw near to God while he draws near to us.  May we enter into solitude and silence for the sake of our souls and for the sake of others.  

Suzanne Cain

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