The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; [God] utters [God’s] voice, the earth melts… “Be still, and know that I am God!” – Psalm 46:6 & 10 (NRSV)
“Be still, and know that I am God” is the kind of thing you see written in script on scented candles, or meme-ified with an image of someone basking in the light of an ocean-setting sun. Murmured in soothing tones by retreat leaders in flowing linen pants with elastic waists. “As you breathe in, feel yourself grow still. As you breathe out, remind yourself that God is God.”
These days, we use the phrase as promise, reassurance. But that wasn’t its original function. In Psalm 96, waters foam, mountains shake, nations roar, kingdoms totter. Wars, bows, shields, screaming chaos. Into all this, God does not sail serenely with low-voiced reminders to practice our square breathing and gentle our monkey minds. Into all this, God storms like a principal who’s just discovered a food fight in the cafeteria.
“SHUT. UUUUUUP!” God roars over the din. And then, after the record-scratch: “I’m the God around here! Not you, not you, and certainly not you.” Eventually, the people shuffle shame-faced out to head home, get cleaned up, and think about what they’ve done.
Of course, “Be still, and know that I am God” is one of the best assurances out there. It’s worth breathing to for sure. Just remember that, humans being what they are, its original function wasn’t to activate the theta waves of a bunch of people sitting crisscross applesauce. Its original function was to stop them from completely destroying the school.
For keeping us from going full Lord of the Flies, thank you. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.