Psalm 46 begins:” God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble.”
The most arguably non-dogmatic, ecumenical, spiritual literature available today is the Psalms. They are timeless. They are to the point, heartfelt expressions of the soul more than the mind: they “tell it like it is’ without intellectualizing. In short, the Psalms are no-nonsense prayers and protests offered to God, frequently in times of crisis without a veneer of pompous religiosity.
In Psalm 46, whatever is going on in the life of this Psalmist terrifies him. He describes it like this: “the earth is removed and…the mountains carried into the midst of sea.” It’s horrifying like an earthquake ––no place to hide. His world is unsettled, and he is reaching deeply inside himself to find his bearings in the midst of the tumult. He speaks with God while he searches himself. He listens to his soul. He hears something and it seems to tell him to “Be still and know I am God.”
This Wednesday, while looking at some Psalms, I learned of the violence in D.C. surrounding the finalization of the election. My own political sentiments were satisfied with the election results. Nevertheless, I felt grief, fear, and then anger and helplessness as violent assaults on the democratic process were happening. My country was tearing itself apart and I was helpless and could do nothing. My stomach was tied in a knot.
This Psalmist is being instructed to be still. In the stillness, he will meet God and become more serene and better focused. In Hebrew, the word “still” means to let go or stop striving, slacking some or letting it drop. For me, it meant loosening my clenched fist around the circumstances that at the moment I could do nothing about. I read the Psalm as a call to surrender any illusions of my presumed rightness and my clinging to some idea of being able to control the turbulence – to make it all nice. My task at the moment was to be still, and put simply, to let go and let God. Hopefully, the time will come when I may be able to make some contribution to the healing of the country, but it is not now.
After the violence subsides and the pitch of the rage begins mitigating, the long road to healing must begin. I would like to be an agent in that healing in some small way. But, if my fist continues to be clenched, my stomach knotted, and my anger and my grief still roiling, I can be of no use to myself or anyone else. I can only become a part of the problem.
Anyone holding religious or spiritual sensitivities will in some ways have a feeling for the concept of a higher power and will understand how important the feeling is not only to have in the midst of crises, but in daily living. It’s helpful to remember the essential goodness in others, in ourselves and in our country. We are not in control of events. The control of events right now is in the hands of others. In stillness, we’re better equipped to respond strategically and wisely: and although I see matters differently from the rioters, in fact it is their country as well as mine.
Be still and pray for unity and healing.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.