[Second in series: “Summer Psalms”]
“Be still, and know that I am God.” This line from Psalm 46:10 is one of the most familiar Bible quotations. Many people remember this statement out of context and use it to find comfort in times of trouble or stress. I have done it myself – meditated on this phrase and found relief from pressure. It’s as if the psalmist is telling us to “chill-out, relax, and let God take over.” In a sense, that is true; but, there is much more to it than our personal anxiety. When we read this phrase within its context and consider the entire psalm, I think we may find that it is more about complete surrender. This psalm tells us that God is “ever present”; that God is “in the midst of the city.” We cannot help but make a connection with this image of “God with us” and “Emmanuel, God with us.”
Both Old and New Testaments speak of God’s presence in the world and how that presence offers us protection and redemption. In the midst of God’s presence, however, we remain in this world that seems more like the wilderness than The Promised Land. God is with us, even when the world around us seems to be falling apart. When unpredictable natural disasters threaten to change and even destroy the earth, God’s people are told not to fear. In the midst of political debate and cultural upheaval, it is God’s voice that can be heard. Only God can bring peace into a world at war. We must be careful not to use this psalm as an invitation – or an excuse – to withdraw from the world and ignore its violence and noise. Being still is less about being quiet than it is about us stopping, standing still to listen for God’s voice above the noise. It assumes that we must stand still in order to recognize that God is in charge, not us. It is a call to the entire world to stop and recognize the absolute authority of God.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels sits in the middle of busy, noisy Los Angeles. It is a beautiful and historic structure that features a collection of large, handmade tapestries. At the front of the worship space, behind the communion table, is a large tapestry with the image of a city map of Los Angeles. This verse from Revelation 21:3 is inscribed on the tapestry: “God’s dwelling is among mortals. God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people. And God will be with them.” This idea of God with us stands in stark contrast to the image of a big city map. L.A. is not unique; it is like so many cities where crime, violence, and cultural turmoil continue to dominate our consciousness. Yet, in the midst of that turmoil sits a cathedral with a tapestry above the communion table proclaiming the dwelling place of God is not something far away, but a reality on earth. Christians stop at this place every day to remind themselves that, in a world where violence is inescapable, God is God and God’s promises are being fulfilled in us. Psalm 46 reminds us that, in this chaotic world, it is not up to us to “fix things”; it is up to us to expect God to fix things. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. You see, verse 10 of psalm 46 is less about meditation and more about the mediation of God’s kingdom in the heart of faith. “Be still” comes from a Hebrew word that means to let go, to release, to surrender. “To know”, in Hebrew, does not just mean to acknowledge something intellectually, it means to internalize or to embody the truth fully.
The climax of Psalm 46 is to let go of ourselves and completely surrender our will so that we may realize the perfect will of God and take God in so that we may objectively know the saving power of God in our lives. We give up trusting in ourselves and our own designs in order to experience the glory of God’s “all-sufficiency”. This isn’t about being still so that we can escape the world; it is about actively letting go so we may see and hear God in the world. When we surrender to the truth the God is in complete control, we will find peace and be delivered from our temporal fears. That is the promise of both the psalm and the entire Bible. In the end, God will prove to be a faithful refuge for those who are caught in the fallen condition of creation and humanity. God is with us – Emmanuel – and the God of Jacob is our refuge.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.