The 46th Psalm begins loudly, with earth-shaking events. The seas roar and foam, the mountains crash and crumble, and a flowing river gurgles through the heart of a bustling city.
And then, like the sound of a record needle screeching to a halt, verse 10 whispers, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Until this morning I had never noticed the contrast of this verse in the context of this chapter and the loud activity it records. I find it interesting that the psalmist doesn’t set up the verse by describing God in silence but rather in activity. It’s like the psalmist knows that we are not able to fully notice and worship God until we first “still” our thoughts, quiet our own actions and pay attention. This is the “work” of stillness; we must put forth the effort to live in ways that counter the movement and activity of the world we live in.
I remember once as a kid, while riding in a golf cart with my dad, that I thought it would be fun to jump out while we were still moving. That was my most vivid encounter with Newton’s law of motion that states that objects in motion tend to remain in motion.
I tumbled onto the turf of that golf course, fortunately not injured. I only ended up with grass stains and a bruised ego.
My experiments with the spiritual exercise of “stillness” have often resulted in tumbles of grass-stained humility, and some bruised and confused self-sufficiency.
That day on the golf course I learned that to successfully step out of a moving golf cart, I must be prepared to hit the ground running in an effort to slow down, eventually standing still. Is it just me, or is there great irony in that last observation:
I needed to hit the ground running in order to end up standing still.
Spiritually I am discovering that merely stepping out of the moving cart of activity is not as simple as it seems. I can’t expect to live at a blistering pace and then simply step immediately into the stillness of, for example, an evening devotional time or a weekend worship service. It takes time to slow down, so I begin with gauging how fast I’m currently moving. This will help me determine whether I need only a step or two to gain my balance, or if I will need several days in the form of a retreat or sabbatical to “hit the ground running” by slowing down in stages en route to a balanced life of stillness. These are wise questions to ask, lest I tumble to the turf in frustration and disillusion.
For example, my sabbatical in December lasted 7 days. But it wasn’t until the third day that my breathing deepened, my heart rate slowed, and my body relaxed. I also noticed that I was chewing my food longer, sleeping better at night, and, in general, assuming a more leisurely attitude with my shoulders dropping into a more relaxed posture. But this didn’t happen in my first step off the cart, so to speak. It took time and discipline.
Many of us don’t realize the pace of our golf cart in life until that first attempt to sit in silence, naively thinking that a step into a few minutes of stillness would come natural. In those first few minutes – or perhaps even seconds – we discover that our minds continue moving forward even when our feet stopped; hence the awkward and painful tumble. This is when our embarrassment and frustration opens our eyes to how hard it can be – how strenuous it is – to be still in ways that successfully aid us in landing on our feet and remaining balanced.
Psalm 46 begins with movement. A lot of movement. The whole earth moves. You can wait and wait and wait for this world to stop spinning and moving and demanding so much of us, but it just doesn’t happen. So we are left with no better options than, in faith, to step out of the moving cart. It will take effort and practice. There will be times, especially early in our journey, when we will almost certainly trip and fall and misgauge the pace of life. But we must keep stepping out in faith, determinedly hitting the ground running, putting forth holy effort in order to eventually land in stillness and know that He is God.