This Advent season in the weeks leading up until Christmas we’re continuing on a theme of stillness. Stopping, resting, slowing, and listening do much to help us find the hope, peace, joy and love that we long for. Our neighbourhoods are places where we can experience this stillness, even with others. There is truly something beautiful to be found when we slow down.
Do you enjoy a long walk on cold evening? The crunch of new snow under the glow of street lights hanging in a black sky, there’s nothing quite like it. And the quiet, it seems like the world is muffled and at peace. There are far less people out walking in our wintery Alberta evenings than there may be on warm summer nights. It gets dark quickly, the sidewalks might be slippery, and the biting cold might make us wonder why we live here at all. Yet for those who walk and venture out into their neighbourhoods, they may find waiting for them a gift of stillness that renews them in ways their soul needed.
Our neighbourhood has pathways winding around ponds, and many of the homes backing onto those pathways have little Christmas light displays. There is something warming about these lights. There is a bit of nostalgia and the reminder that Christmas is near. But often I’m reminded that they serve as a gift to everyone who passes by. While we may not know who lives there, we can feel like those neighbours put out their lights and turned them on for our enjoyment. These gifts, as simple as they are, are received in stillness, on long walks, in the chilly darkness that overlays our neighbourhoods.
Walking in stillness can do something special in us, too. Philosophers have found stillness and clarity in strolling. Friedrich Nietzsche said coyly that, “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” Similarly, in a letter to a sick friend, Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of wellbeing and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” When we walk we are afforded a moment to think, to pray, to pause and be grateful. Sometimes walking is simply a chance to just rest our minds and experience peace.
Stillness is not something we can buy at a store or on a Black Friday sale. It is a gift we actively receive. When we walk into stillness we step into the cold dark evening and sometimes in doing so we receive warmth and light inside. Famously, John Wesley, in stillness, had an experience that made him feel that his “heart was strangely warmed.” Have you?
May we each have experiences in these dark days of winter that “strangely warm” our hearts. May we find and receive the gift of stillness in the midst of noise and busy-ness. As you walk into your neighbourhood, may you again discover the quiet goodness all around you.