Be Still

  • Psalm 46:10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
  • Exodus 14:14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still..

Being still: not exactly an easy thing to do. One may consider this a task in todays ‘grab what you can’ attitude. When we think of being still we may end up worrying about missing out, getting bored, or missing the point of the stillness altogether.
When I read Exodus 14:14 as a standalone verse I consider the beauty of the notion. Then I read the context of this verse; it’s truly terrifying! The Israelite people had just fled from the yoke of bondage that Egypt had them in; they were probably rejoicing, singing, and were generally enthralled at the idea of freedom. Then these newly freed people look behind them and there they are- the Egyptian army! They were about to go from free to slave, and back again in a matter of days! And Moses response: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”
How the hell is that expected? Did Moses really ask the Israelite people to ‘stand there’ while a hateful and resentful army slaughtered them?
In the case of Psalm 46, context isn’t important; these were songs of praise authored by David. They didn’t contain within them a narrative, or context. Of course, each Psalm was written during a particular time in David’s life, and the words reflect that: some of the Psalms are joyous, some express pain, and some are cautionary.
So what does it mean to be still before God? As Catholics, we have a unique relationship with Christ; we know Him to be truly present in the Host, and every Church has a place specially set apart for the Host. We can walk into any Church and know that Jesus is truly present, with us to the end of the age.
When we walk into a Church, we genuflex (bend our knee to the presence of our King), and then proceed to sit there, often in silence. And then we see it, then we feel it. The stillness that Moses asked for: it wasn’t the absence of movement, but the presence of peace. Most will know that the Hebrew word for ‘peace’ is ‘shalom.’ It’s truly a beautiful, but misunderstood word. In English, we understand peace to mean the absence of conflict; we identify peace by their not being a war, a lacking of something rather than a presence of something else. I don’t think it’s a good idea to understand something by only comparing it to something else, and certainly not when that thing is peace! But in Hebrew, ‘shalom’ means so much more. It means to be ‘complete’, ‘unharmed,’ ‘atoned.’
This peace isn’t an end to itself, it’s actually the starting block. In this true peace, we leave ourselves behind and focus on the One who matters most. In stillness we find an essence of God, His love, and His mercy. Psalm 46:10 reveals itself to us: we aren’t just seeking God to obtain stillness or peace, but we also obtain stillness to seek God. These two things are two sides to the same coin, complimenting each other.
The Prophet Jeremiah touched on this. He spoke of God revealing wonders to Elijah: first the Lord passed by and brought a mighty wind. The wind broke away rock from the mountain, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in this either. After this, Elijah saw a fire, but God wasn’t there. After all these mighty occurrences, Elijah heard a ‘small, still voice.’ He wrapped his face and it was then that God spoke to him.
From this account, I think God tells us something of Himself. It’s not that God cannot reveal Himself in wonderous ways, because we know that’s not the case; but when we want more of God’s presence we need to get outside of our expectations of what that presence should look or feel like.
God is a God of peace, a God who seeks the fullest of relationships with us. In order for that to even begin, we have to take all our pain and struggles to Him; then, once we have left them at His feet, we can know what it means to find the fullness of peace in His presence. This is the perfect completion that we all seek. We aren’t expected to be ignorant; we know that there are troubles in the world, and our lives. Yet we know that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). It is in this presence that we are unharmed by the outside world, our souls held by Him who loves us the most. Then there is ‘shalom.’

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