by Catherine Upchurch
Special to The Leaven
Good engineers know the value of a counterbalance. Whether for a seesaw, elevator or a forklift, the design has to allow for weights to balance one another. Without that balance, a child will go flying off the seat of the seesaw, an elevator will plummet and a forklift will tip over on itself.
We are designed with a need for a counterbalance as well. We cannot simply be busy doing the work of the kingdom without the balancing gift and discipline of stillness.
One way to enter into stillness and silence in God’s presence, to calm ourselves so that we are more aware of God, is to use this simple verse from Psalm 46:11: “Be still and know that I am God.” Through the psalmist, God is giving a direction that will slow our pace, take away the “hurry” of our days and maybe even help us let go of some worry as well. Take a deep breath, sit comfortably and say the verse within yourself. Ponder who God is to you. Call to mind the ways that you most often experience God’s presence.
After a few moments of quietly focusing on God, strip away the end of that verse and sit in silence with these words: “Be still and know that I am.” God revealed himself to Moses in the Sinai desert as “I AM” (Ex 3:11-14). God is the cause of all being.
Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus revealed his divine identity when he said, “I am . . .” the good shepherd; the gate for the sheep; the light of the world; the way and the truth and the life; the resurrection and the life; and the true vine. When you sit in stillness and contemplate God’s power in our world, begin with acknowledging that God is the creative power of all that is and the abiding presence in all that will be.
And now we focus even more deeply on the gift of stillness by stripping away a bit more of the verse, saying in our hearts and minds, “Be still and know.” We tend to focus on knowing as the act of sorting through information to make sense of reality, and in the spiritual context, that sometimes means gaining knowledge about God. While acquiring knowledge is a significant part of our growth as humans, as disciples, the Bible invites us to think of knowing, especially knowing God, as a kind of intimacy that we share with God. It comes in the form of a loving relationship with God. In stillness, you will grow in love and in trust of the God who fashioned you and abides with you.
By now, you know that we will remove a couple more words to be left with “Be still.” Stillness allows us the space we need to hear God’s voice. Mary, mother of Jesus, is said to have reflected or pondered or treasured in her heart the things divinely revealed to her by an angel, by shepherds and through the events of Jesus’ young life (Lk 2:15-20, 41-52). Such reflection requires stillness. Quiet yourself, be aware of your breathing which is itself a gift from God.
And we are left with “Be.” By now, your breathing is a bit deeper, your body is a bit quieter and you might hear God saying simply, “Let me look on you in love.” God’s love is at the heart of our being and becomes the basis for how we act as disciples.
Creating the discipline of being still in the presence of God’s love will direct your heart and your feet as you move from being to doing, from stillness to action. It is the necessary counterbalance for a life of discipleship.
Questions for reflection or discussion
Jesus knew the need for quiet time with his Father (see Mt 14:13; Mk 1:32-35; 6:45-46; 14:32-34; Lk 4:42; 5:16; 9:18; Jn 6:15). In what circumstances are you most often reminded to seek out God in quiet?
When you consider your own life as a disciple of Jesus, do you feel that you have found a balance between doing God’s work and being in God’s presence? If not, are you more drawn to stillness and prayer or works of love and service?
What are some ways that you might create more time for stillness in God’s presence? Or, if this is already your practice, how might you continue to grow in the discipline of quiet meditation on God’s love and life in you?
Do other Bible verses speak to you in a way that they could become the basis for your quiet meditation in God’s presence? For a few examples, see 1 Cor 3:16; Lk 12:25; Ps 51:12; Jn 15:9.
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas.