December 19, 2013

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength…Therefore we will not fear.
The Lord of hosts is with us.
Be still and know that I am God.
(Psalm 46:1,7,10)

Psalm 46 is read at the First Hour on Christmas because it hints at the Good News. “The Lord of hosts is with us” is repeated twice (verses 7 and 11), an echo of Isaiah’s “God is with us” sung repeatedly on Christmas Eve at Great Compline, interspersed with verses from Isaiah 8-9, including “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).

The heart of the Good news in both Psalm 46 and Isaiah is that we have been delivered from fear. Though the earth should change, though the mountains shake, though the seas roar and foam, “we will not fear.” Whatever is going on around us externally, in our inward being “God is our refuge and strength,” the Lord of hosts is with us and we will not be shaken.

Monk Praying
Be still

But this conviction and inner strength doesn’t come automatically. It is the fruit of trust in the Lord that grows out of communion with him in the silence of our hearts. “Be still and know that I am God (verse 10) is a favorite verse in the Orthodox tradition of prayer. “Be still” in the Greek is scholasate, an ancestor of scholar and school, and is a reminder that all true knowledge comes out of the depth of silence and making time for restful reflection.

Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry has written about the stillness at the heart of poetry, but his words could as easily be applied to any form of activity and work that depends on inner communion with God.

“How to be a Poet (to remind myself)”

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill-more of each
than you have-inspiration
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity…

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.”

* * *

Years ago I learned from a fellow priest a practical prayer application of “Be still and know that I am God.” You can repeat this quietly over and over, and then progressively lop of the words and repeating again each time. “Be still and know that I am…Be still and know…Be still…Be…” This has a way of leading you into stillness.

Lesser Synod at the Chancery

Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Nathaniel, Archbishop Benjamin and Bishop Michael continue their work today. The OCA’s officers are involved in most of the agenda too, although several closed sessions for the bishops alone are scheduled as well. As I’ve said in the past that it is a privilege to work so closely with His Beatitude and the bishops. Even on difficult matters, there is a good humored and friendly spirit that prevails. From time to time the work is quite intense and detailed as letters and documents are reviewed and re-drafted together or as questions come up that require some rethinking on policies and procedures. But this in itself reflects the conciliar, cooperative spirit (or sobornost) that should be normal in the work of the Church.