Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Peace! Be Still!

Some of us tend to ride the sea of life in a tiny, barely-seaworthy boat. Jesus seems often enough to be asleep when the winds rise and the waves start spilling into the boat. So, like the Apostles, who really didn’t know Him all that well at the time of their first sea-squall (for when it was over, they asked themselves, “Who then is this…?”), we panic and shout at Him: “Master, do you not care if we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Jesus calmly gets up, briefly but thoroughly assesses the stormy situation, and says: “Peace! Be still!” In the Gospel account, He was addressing the wind and the sea, but I think in our own situations He is addressing us. What He did say to the Apostles, He also says to us: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

Both of those questions are important for us, though in a sense they are but one question. Jesus seems to answer the first with the second. If we are afraid (as we often may be), the reason may very well lie in our lack of faith, which also means our lack of trust. One of the most difficult struggles for a Christian, I think, is that which involves knowing how much weight to give to human means, evidences, calculations, plans, and psychological, sociological, or political dynamics, and how much simply to believe and trust in God. There is no easy or exact solution to this, though it seems clear that the saints had a radical faith and trust in God and a severely limited trust in all the rest (though a further discernment lies in how much—or whether or not—God is using any given human means for his own purposes). Having said all that, I think we can probably conclude that in our own experience we do not rely sufficiently upon God—and hence we end up afraid, due to lack of faith, just like the disciples on the sea.

The issue of faith and of the calming of storms can perhaps be summed up in the well-known (but little practiced) Psalm verse: “Be still and know that I am God” (45/46:11). (The actual context of the psalm would probably require us to translate it, “Shut up! And know that I am God!” but for the purposes of our contemplative prayer we’ll keep it, “Be still.”) To be still enough to hear that word presupposes at least a little bit of faith and also the time taken in silent prayer to know what it means that the Lord is God, with all that this implies for the benefit of our lives. God can calm the storms, in and around us, but we really do have to believe that He is there, to trust that He has our best interests at heart, and to expect that He will simply do what is best for us—and we must also be ready for Him to show us what is our role in co-operating with His will in the accomplishment thereof.

Some years ago I read this little prayer formula, based on the psalm, which I use from time to time to help get me quiet and in the presence of Him who is God:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I AM.
Be still and know.
Be still.

It takes you right back to the moment of your creation, when God said: Let there be you, and it was so, and God saw that it was good. First, you “be.” Little by little you learn until you know. Then you learn what is most important to know, that the Lord is God and can calm any storm. Then you rest in that. Be still. Be—in Him.

Now get back into your boat and sail the sea of life. Jesus may be sleeping somewhere in the boat, but that’s OK. Know that He is God. He will bring peace and stillness, and it will happen more and more as you grow in faith and thus diminish in fear. We have to listen and examine ourselves when He asks us about our fears and our faith; we have to receive and rejoice in His word of peace when He commands it. Then all manner of things shall be well.