The Art of Standing Still

Robert Fulghum, one of my favorite authors, once described life as a big bullfight. He got this from his experience visiting Mexico to see a bullfight. He ascribes the bull as “the beast of self destruction.”  To overcome it, he says that we need to overcome it with confidence brought about by experience.

“With experience and practice, one may increase the odds in favor of triumphing over the bull. I respect the bull. I know that even the best matadors come close to death. And sometimes –sometime – the bull wins.” – Robert Fulghum, Maybe (Maybe Not)

The man goes on to say what this confidence is and how to attain it.

“This confidence is called ‘ver llegar’ in the ring. It means ‘to watch them come.’ It is the ability to plant your feet exactly so – to hold your ground and see calmly, as in slow motion, the charge of the bull, knowing that you have what it takes to maneuver the bull safely by. This is dynamic stability. Standing still is one of the steps in dancing, as moments of silence are part of the music. Confidence lies in stillness. It is confidence that comes from many passes and many fights – you can control the bull and defeat it because you have done it before.” – Robert Fulghum, Maybe (Maybe Not)

So the key element is standing still. No wonder I couldn’t defeat the many raging bulls in my head. I have been moving about and running away from them.

Another author tells us something similar. His name is David and he is a king.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

– Psalm 46:10-11

Truth be told, standing still has a lot of benefits. It lets you breathe deeper, filling your lungs to maximum capacity. Thereby, allowing oxygenation of the blood to the brain and other organs. This fosters thinking clearly. Try running and breathing deeply at the same time, you won’t feel your lungs full. And you won’t be able to think as clearly as when you are standing still. (Of course, it feels good to stand still and breathe fresh air after running or hiking.)

When I was in high school, my classmates frequently visited the Luneta Park for practices or just to snoop at or hide from rival sections as they rehearse for the upcoming inter-class competitions. (We always ended up losing to that class, though) One time, I saw a group of people of mixed gender and age. They were lined up and arranged two arm-spans away from each other. The guy in front seemed to be their leader, and he was holding some sort of umbrella.  I got curious and moved closer to watch them. They just stood still slowly rising on tiptoes. I was not able to stay long to watch the rest as I had to go home.

A few days later, I saw that same group featured on TV. It turned out that they were practicing some Chinese martial art called Tai Chi. Their movements all included standing still and doing small slow movements with their hands and arms. Each movement coupled with a gulp of air. Further search revealed that they were not only undergoing breathing training, each movement required muscle force. Maybe one of those small punches could make me drop dead. Or so we were told.

Standing still has its benefits.

Another man was able to stand still against bulls. He was no matador as Mexico was probably not yet discovered at that time. He was an Englishman by the name of John Wycliffe and he had the confidence of a matador.

In the fourth chapter of the Great Controversy, Ellen G. White tells about him and his stubbornness. (He is stubborn, you’ll see later.) He was a scholarly gentleman of his age. He studied philosophy, church doctrine and laws in a liberal university (Oxford). In those days the only professions that required going to the university is either priesthood, or lawyer. All the others, including medicine didn’t have academic requirements. (Barbers did the surgery in those days.)

Also in those days, the Bible was prohibited to the common folk. Only priests, friars, monks, and lawyers were allowed access to the Scriptures. The main reason for this was that the Bible was still in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or Latin. Thus, only people in the universities who had time and intellectual capacity to study these scriptures could understand it.

Moreover, the pope was the supreme ruler of all Europe during that time. All monarchs paid homage and responded to the biddings of the pope or the bishops. (Remember the black cardinal and the red bishops of fiction, they were all true.) The pope enforced laws and punishments in the form of orders called bulls. These included excommunication, declaration of heresies and heretics, and trials for people who were against the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. These were also called the Dark Ages in History though other text books tell a different reason for the “dark” term.

Putting all these together, it’s easy to figure out the story. John Wycliffe, because of his education and his genius was able to learn and study the Bible thoroughly. He then found out that the current Roman Catholic Church doctrines were erroneous and did something about it. All that John did was stand, breathe air, and preach the truth. Then, stand up for that truth. His zealous work produced other preachers who spread all throughout England – also standing still. He published books, and articles, made a lot of followers, thereby attracting the attention of the papal powers. The pope in his rage sent several bulls to the English government to put Wycliffe on trial and put him behind bars after retracting or taking back his statements against the church.

Thus, John Wycliffe was stubborn. He stood still even if bulls were after him – literal papal bulls.

John stood on trial against the Church in front of the British parliament three times. All of those times, he was released and pardoned. First time was because he was escorted by two respected and influential princes at that time, they couldn’t do anything but let him. Second time, the pope died since he had no accuser, they had no choice but to let him go. Third was because there were two new popes and both were too busy biting at each other’s neck for power that they let John off easily but not without reaching the highest tribunal. There should have been a fourth time, which should have sent him to torture and then death, but he died before they could even file any case against him.

In front of the highest tribunal, he left this words, “With whom, think you, are ye contending? with an old man on the brink of the grave? No! with Truth,—Truth which is stronger than you, and will overcome you.”

Amazing right? Tell me God wasn’t working there. John just stood still.

Most of the time, it happens. Every day, find ourselves facing bulls that challenge our very principles and ideals. While they remain ideas in our heads, the challenge is how long would you cling to those ideas. How long could you stand up and hold your ground against all the bulls that would pass you? Would you crumble in fear and give way the very moment the bull reaches you? Or would you just stand and let God sustain you on your ground? It’s a simple matter of standing still and watching the real Master Matador as He sways each bull that comes charging into your life.

Now, I dare you to move!

** John’s story didn’t end there. 40 years after his death, he was declared to be exhumed. His bones were dug up, burned and the ashes spread on the River Swift. Still, John became the forerunner of the Reformation. Ole!

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