The psalmist provides a way to disengage from frenzy in order to restore balance and centeredness.
REV. JEROME (JERRY) DEVINE
Director of Connectional Ministry, Detroit Conference
Have you found yourself a bit overwhelmed or inundated by the multiple voices vying for your attention lately? Have the seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints on the news channels and social media made it difficult for you to offer a clarifying and balancing response that is rooted in your deep relationship with God and shaped by the values you have come to know through the life of Jesus Christ?
If so, I invite you to try praying the following words in a rhythmic movement, line by line:
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
If you pray this through several times until that centering peace begins to present itself, then you will have just participated in one of the ancient forms of praying and meditating using a single verse of scripture.
The desert contemplatives of the early centuries of Christianity, also called the “ammas” (mothers) and “abbas” (fathers), would sometimes pick one verse or short section of scripture and spend up to an entire year living with that text. Their intent was to enter fully into the depth of the scripture, discovering God who is beyond the text, and in the journey they discovered themselves and the world more fully. They did not intend to proof-text a sermon or convince someone else of their particular theological and/or political position. They wanted to know God and to know themselves in this world.
Admittedly the desert ammas and abbas did not live in the world that you and I now inhabit. Not only did they usually live in isolation, away from the perceived busyness of their world, they also lived in a world that was not bombarded 24 hours a day with caustic rhetoric and inflammatory proclamations. Yes, even that ancient world had political tensions, problematic governments, rival theological and political parties and perspectives, yet there was not an electronic media frenzy to prevent them from seeking the quiet center in order to gain perspective.
To more fully connect with God and our truer selves we may also need to make time to disconnect from the frenzy. Thanks to my oldest son (with helpful support from our spouses) I did just that this past weekend. His birthday is coming this week and his gift to himself was to “just hang out” with his Dad (a.k.a. “abba”) and brothers. One of my sons was unable to come, but on Saturday three of us ventured North to a friend’s small place on the White River, right next to the Manistee National Forest near Hesperia.
When we arrived I realized that we had zero “connectivity”. No texting, no social media, no news feeds, no emails. We were disconnected! It gave me both a sense of relief and a bit of anxiousness that I would not feel myself able to respond to the whirling wind of demands in the news and on social media.
As the afternoon, along the river, began to move toward evening I allowed myself, perhaps forced myself, to live in the necessary tension between disconnecting and connecting. The words of that psalmist came to mind once again, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10). However, there are 11 verses to that particular psalm. It begins with the affirmation of faith, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake…” This seems a timely word for this past week in our world. From the affirmation of faith we move into the confession of faith, “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter…”
For those of us who were formed and called by God to be Christian social activists and community transformers, this verse reveals why we sometimes find it so hard to disconnect for a period of time. We love God and this world so much that we sometimes get over-connected with the demands and under-connected with our source of strength.
The psalmist is so gifted at bringing us through those competing energies and bringing us to the key place of connection: “Be still and know that I am God!”
This is both an invitation and a command. So, on Sunday morning, as the early sun melted the layer of dew and fog away, I went down alone to the river to offer thanks, praise and intercessory prayer. The words of invitation and command began to circulate in my thoughts, heart and eyes. I listened carefully to the gentle rush of water over the rocks downstream. It was the only sound in the air. I gazed upon the sun shimmering across creation’s landscape and was mindful of our relationship as part of that creation. I was gratefully aware of my limitations in the presence of our abundant God.