Recently I was reading Psalm 46, carefully and slowly. It has come to be a familiar Psalm, not nearly as famous as Psalm 13 or Psalm 23. Yet one of its verses has obtained stardom and been placed on many living room walls, Facebook posts, and in our Christian songs. “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. I am sure you have heard this or read this before. It has become a pretext to times of mediation and silence and is often read out as an instruction to groups of people who all too often have trouble being still; me being one of them.
Normally I read this Psalm skimming for its celebrity verse, scanning the stanzas looking for verse 10 so that I may feel comfort by its beckoning and familiarity. Yet during this particular reading I was struck (as many of us often are struck with scripture) by the verses context. Here is why:
I am guilty of placing stillness in the context of retreat and vacation or, in its most accessible form, a Sunday morning worship service. I view stillness as a privilege within specific time which has made it a commodity. I feel that many can relate to me as I look at a culture which defines success in terms of busyness. This observation of stillness only being found in retreat led me to ask, “what if I cannot retreat?” It is the day to day busyness, the demands, the chaos of getting out the door in the morning that often lead us to ache for retreat, for stillness. But lets get back to Psalm 46.
God’s instruction to us to be still (verse 10) comes in the most unstill of contexts. We have times of trouble mentioned (1), mountains being tossed into the sea (2), roaring waters, and trembling mountains (3). Each of these a metaphor for the uncontrollable chaos we encounter in our lives, a chaos that we can not simply get away from. How often do we find ourselves facing such situations where things we thought couldn’t change, changed? Health disappearing from you or a loved one, finances which were always there somehow depleted, family which was always there to rely on being a source of deep hurt and frustration, a stable career being threatened… the list goes on and on. Each of these leaving us longing for rest, retreat, stillness, but feeling as though we can not even visit these until the dust of the crashing mountains have settled. Stillness has become a privilege.
Notice though that there is no call in this Psalm to retreat or run away from the surrounding chaos. There is no instruction to seek an all-inclusive resort nor to escape for the Majestic Rockies for a personal retreat. There is very simply an instruction to be still. God instructs us to take whatever sliver of time we can find in the midst of chaos, and to be still and know that He is God. These slivers of time are times of reorientation, times of taking ones focus off of chaos and placing it on God. It is the sliver of time which God is pointing out in this Psalm. When mountains are crashing into the sea, when trouble is closing in, God has allowed for slivers, moments in which to be still. It is these moments which he commands us to enter into, “Be still and know that I am God.”
My prayer is that God will help me to see these slivers of time, these opportunities to be still, if only for a moment, and to engage with them. If sitting in traffic, by a hospital bed, running to the bathroom between terrible business meetings, these slivers of time beckon us to stop thinking that keeping the mountains from crashing into the seas is somehow all our responsibility.
Retreat or holiday is not always an option, though I wish it were! This Psalm invites to see that our stillness is not dependent on retreating, but rather on taking moments, moments surrounded by chaos, to be still and know that God is God. God’s invitation in this Psalm is an invitation we need to hear within the chaos of our lives. If we cannot do that, we will continue to reserve stillness for specific contexts and consequently miss out on stillness in the midst of chaos.
This Psalm ends with a joyful cry. There is no indication that trouble has gone, or that the mountain’s devastating dust has settled. No. The only indication of change we read about is that the Psalmist has heeded God’s command and chosen stillness. From this place of reorientation he cries out, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Perhaps such an assurance is one which you need today.