Sit Down and Shut Up: Learning to Be More Aware

“Sit down and shut up!”

Every day of the school year, we’d get on the bus and hear our bus driver, Doug Crow, shout it out to us.  Sometimes it would be just him looking in the mirror.  Other times, he’d pull to the side of the road and get up, red faced and ramped up, and give us the line, speaking each syllable with the force of a semi-truck willing to incinerate anything in it’s path by shear force.

I don’t know if he graduated college or just finally got a better gig, but one school year, on the first day, Doug was gone.  His memory wasn’t though.  He is one of those who is forever present in my thoughts of growing up in Mississippi.

“Sit down and shut up!”

The story has been passed down from the early church that tells of a monk who went to Scetis to visit with Abba Moses.  He had gone to ask him for a word.  The desert father said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’ (pg 139, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

“Sit down and shut up.”

One of the great gifts I have experienced in participating in the Upper Room’s Academy of Spiritual Formation experiences has been the gift of your “cell.”  Don’t confuse it with a prison.  In our day it might be a “prayer closet.”  For the monk or the desert abbas and ammas, the cell was where everything was kept even though that “everything” was  not usually very much.

For me, the cell, my living space for a week, was a treasure.  It was more than just a hotel room or retreat space.  It was a space where I could be aware.  Awareness, writes Joan Chittister, is what we are practicing when we ask, “What do I see here of God that I could not see otherwise?  What is God demanding of my heart as a result of each event, each situation, each person in my life? (23, Illuminated Life).  It is a practice of not just hearing the words of another, but of listening to their soul and to the word of the Spirit of God.  It is a time to engage ourselves in what God is doing around us.

I think this is part of what Elijah is doing in 1 Kings 19, of being aware enough to hear God say, “What are you doing here?”  For Elijah, the cave was his cell, the place where he could be aware of God.  To be attentive, fully, not to what others are saying, not the noise calling for attention, but to be able to hear and know the voice of God; this is the practice of awareness.

So many voices seem to be claiming to speak for God.  There is pressure and influence being placed for people to choose sides for this issue or that issue. 

“Sit down and shut up.”

And so Abba Moses speaks again. 

May I Ask:  Who has told you recently you need to “Sit down and shut up?”  What maybe preventing you from being more aware?

May I Suggest:  If you’ve got time to read this blog, or watch a movie on Netflix, you’ve got time to sit down and shut up.  Just try it.  If nothing worse happens, you might just get a good nap.


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