It seems these days that whenever I’m asked, “How are you doing?”, my reply is, “Busy”. I simply have nothing more to say than “busy”. As this clearly isn’t a great beginning for any meaningful conversation, and as this exchange most often happens between my fiance and I, he has again prompted me to reflect on my current perspectives on life (I recently explored regaining a true sense of wonder).
The Lord’s timing is perfect. Last month, at the end of my confession, the priest gave me what I believe to be one of the best penances I’ve ever received: “I want you to sit quietly and for thirty minutes meditate on the verse ‘Be still and know that I am God’” (Psalm 46:10). My first reaction? “Thirty minutes? On one sentence?! Do I really have time for that? I mean, I’m busy.”
Luckily, this penance held the weight of cleansing of my soul. But it ended up providing so much more.
“Be still and know that I am God.” How can one live this out in a busy life? By quiet moments of prayer in a chapel, yes. However, it must also go deeper (at least 30 minutes deeper!).
These quiet moments of reflection helped me realize that to be still in the knowledge of the Lord’s presence should be carried with us even beyond the chapel (and needs to be!). Think of Christ telling the sea, “Be still” (Mark 4:39). What were the effects of this? On the one hand, the seas and wind were calmed. On the other, the disciples knew what and who Jesus was: divine, the very Son of God.
So to have knowledge of Jesus brings peace. But to acquire this stillness, this peace, we must go beyond the ordinary understanding of “knowledge”. Even the devil knows God. But to know him, in the Biblical sense, is to experience intimate communion with him, as Adam “knew” his wife Eve and, through this communion of persons, conceived a son (Genesis 4:1). It is only when we know God in this way, in this intimate communion, that the new life of peace will be conceived and born within us.
So then, what is it to know? What is espousement?
- to listen intently
- to bear one’s heart openly
- to share joys and sorrow
- to exchange encouragement and to reprove
- to petition and to grant
Namely, to trust.
So what is it to trust? It is to place something within another’s care.
So, we are called to embrace a deeper trust in the Lord in order to experience the calm of peace in our own lives. But just as the Lord’s effect of peace in the storm did not just grant a change in weather, but also a revelation of who he is, so too can this peace we experience in him be a sign and witness of his power to others. They, in turn, will know God by our stillness, resolution, and firm foundation when, by all accounts, we would be expected to be tossing like the sea.
So if knowledge of God in turn brings us his peace, then why does the Lord command stillness first? Why does he not say, “know that I am God and [therefore] be still”? Simply put, the Lord knows our human condition. He knows that among all the distractions and trials in life, we need to be called to take a pause. For it is only in this pause that we become open to recognizing God. Just as Elijah heard the Lord only in the pause in the storm, in a still, small voice, so too will we only hear the Lord when we take pause (1 Kings 19:12-13).
But how do we who are so distracted by the world and our own busyness (often self-inflicted in my case), find these moments to pause? I was recently commanded by my confessor to do so. But how do I cultivate a lifestyle open to these moments of refreshment, of peace? Thankfully, God is constantly reaching out to us. And one of the most powerful ways he does this is through the beauty of the world around us: the flower growing out of the crack in the sidewalk, the majestic landscape painted by a fresh coat of winter snow, the early morning chirping of new chicks in springtime. These tiny incidents of beauty are wrapped in a divine calling (as was the whisper heard by Elijah). As Dietrich von Hildebrand states in his essay “Beauty in the Light of the Redemption”, “It is a great mystery which God has entrusted to visible and audible capacities: to be able to place before us sublime, spiritual qualities, a beauty which, in its quality, reflects God’s world, and which speaks of this higher transfigured world” (87).
So even if this pause is only for an instant, we need to call God’s presence to mind in the midst of our trials. And we need to be open to the little ways in which he is inviting us to that moment of stillness. For then, when knowledge of his presence is again actualized, all of the eternal sweetness bursts into the apparent chaos of our busy lives. And this is how we receive calm in the chaos: by recognizing (“re-cognizing”— bringing back to our cognition) that he is always beside us, and that nothing is too big, nor too great, for him. With this awareness, we need not be paralyzed by fear.
Do not be afraid. Rather, “Be still and know that I am God.”