Guest Blog post by: Carl McColman
“ Be still and know that I am God.”
This lovely affirmation, from Psalm 46:10, has become one of the most popular Bible verses; and it’ s easy to see why. Few statements in the Jewish or Christian scripture so obviously call for a contemplative embrace of restful silence, stillness, and awareness of the ever-available presence of God. But as popular as this verse is, many people do not realize the larger context from which it comes.
Psalm 46 is the psalm that Martin Luther used to compose his classic hymn, “ A MightyFortress is Our God.” Taken as a whole, the psalm calls us to acknowledge that only God— the Spirit of Love, the Holy One, the Divine Mystery — provides us with safety and refuge in the storms and chaos of life. In other words, our safety is not found in military might, or other “ worldly” ways of thinking about strength and power. Consider verse 9,the verse that comes right before the “ Be still” line:
God makes wars cease to the end of the earth;God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;God burns the shields with fire.
So there’ s a lot more at stake here in Psalm 46 than just learning how to meditate! This is a psalm for reconciliation and peacemaking. With this in mind, is it any surprise that at least one translation of the Bible translates verse 10 as “ Cease striving and know that I am God” ? Indeed, while I am not a Bible scholar, a Jewish friend of mine informs me that the original Hebrew of verse 10 carries a meaning that suggests “ be still” actuallymeans “ lay down your arms.” The stillness that we are called to, by the Psalmist, is both an inner stillness — meditation and contemplation — but also an outer stillness,characterized by reconciliation, peacemaking, and surrendering our impulse to , defend ourselves, and approach every conflict looking for a fight.
In today’ s world, it seems that the most serious threat to peace is the threat of terrorism.And while terrorism (in any form) is certainly a dangerous problem, one of the tragedies of our time is the way that so many Christian Americans generalize “ terrorism” to be a code word for “ radical Islam.” Just as how for a generation in Northern Ireland political and economic troubles were subsumed under conflicts that found expression along religious lines, pitting Catholic against Protestant, so today it seems that on a global scale we see too many people willing to understand the conflicts in our world in : as a fight between Islam and Judaism, or Islam and Christianity, or even Islam and secularism. Perhaps, for ordinary Americans who want to take a stand against terrorism,one of the most positive and creative things we can do is to transform the way we think about people who are different from us — especially people whose religious identities are unlike our own. But how do we go about doing this? Here, I think, Psalm 46 is a sure guide.
Be still. Cease your striving. Lay down your arms. To become unarmored, and undefended, in how we relate to people of different religious or faith identities, requires,paradoxically, that we embrace our own faith, our own wisdom, more fully and deeply.Since I am a Christian, I’ ll speak of this in Christian terms. The more fully I immerse myself in the Christian tradition of prayerful meditation and contemplation, the more I become available to “ cease my striving” and encounter people whose faith is unlike my own — whether Muslim, Jewish, or some other tradition — with love and hope, rather than with fear and aggression.
To put it simply, I believe there is an essential and necessary link between contemplation and peacemaking. As the old song goes, “ Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Contemplation is a way of cultivating both inner peace (by “ being still”and “ knowing” the loving presence of God), and outer peace — in that the fruits of such inner peace include the ability to relate to those who are different in a spirit of hospitality,community-building, and reconciliation.
I don’ t mean to suggest that if everyone starts meditating that suddenly all our problems and conflicts will vanish. But I do believe that the more people engage in contemplation,the more we will have the inner strength and grace to respond to our conflicts and problems with creativity and hope, rather than resorting to the kind of violence and destruction that Psalm 46 speaks out against.
On April 2 I’ ll be at the Cedar Hill Enrichment Center for a day of reflection and respite.This will be a time for people to gather in the spirit of Psalm 46:10. I hope that people of any faith (or even no faith) will feel welcome to join us, for this is not about one particular faith tradition. Rather, my hope is that by sharing my own journey into the silence of Christian contemplation, I can inspire and encourage everyone who attends a deeper spirituality according to the wisdom of your own tradition. We won’ tsolve all the world’ s problems, but perhaps by attending to the silence in each of our , we can find a way to, as Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “ be peace” intoday’ s troubled world.
To Register for The Day of Reflection and Respite, call: 770-887-0051
Click HERE to see Carl’s website.