One Sunday afternoon, not quite knowing what to do with myself for the brief span that was left to me between the day’s scheduled events, I thought I might sit in silence. A Lenten study on spiritual discipline suggested that we should do this regularly, but I never seem able to find the time. Sitting quietly on my couch, my mind began to whirl with the things I had to do, the responsibilities I had forsaken, the things I had left undone, the people I had disappointed. It is no wonder that I try to keep myself busy enough to forget these things. But yet I sat and tried to listen.
While my mind was wandering, I considered one of my favorite phrases (ironic, given my typical state of mind): “Be still and know that I am God.” In particular I love that we are told that to recognize the presence of God requires us to “Be Still.” This suggests to me that there might have been type-A personalities back in the days when there was little more to do than to herd sheep; but it also suggests that frenetic activity for some of us may be a kind of avoidance. The simplicity of “Be Still” is deceptive: as I continue to learn, true stillness is not easy. This appeal — this exhortation — has become for me a powerful message: a reminder that there is much more to life than worldly accomplishment and busy-ness. Then what about the rest of the command, “Know that I am God”? What does it mean to know that God is God? Does it mean to feel the presence of God at all times? to perceive God in all things? to recognize that there are forces beyond our awareness or control at work in our lives? I can’t say that I know yet.
This got me to thinking (again) about Who, or What, is God? When Moses asked a similar question of the burning bush, the response was simply “I Am Who I Am.” As a child, I never thought this answer offered any clarification or explanation. Anybody could have responded with “I Am,” and we might have thought it very profound. But as I get older, I begin to see that this may be the only answer that makes any sense. Maybe God was making a proclamation, providing a distinction between the God of Israel and all of the other non-existent “gods” of the time: our God is. Or maybe God was making a statement truly beyond our comprehension. If God is the ultimate Presence of the universe, Creation is not an entity outside of God or next to God. Without God existence itself is impossible. To make any qualifying statement about God is limiting, and so God is identified completely and uniquely with the words “I Am.” In times of doubt, “I Am” may not seem to provide sufficient credentials. Yet the fact remains that the universe exists: somehow it came into being; it has a measurable beginning. For the incomprehensible vastness of space and the intricate and complex chain of events which wrought our very existence, “I Am” may be the simplest, most elegant explanation.
In my thinking that Sunday afternoon, I wondered if there might be anything else I could consider, a third statement by or about God to round out the package, as the sermon maxim goes “three points and a poem.” No sooner had I thought this to myself than the single word “Love” came to mind. By itself it can be both a command as in “Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or it can be a statement about the nature of God, describing our Lord and Creator as in God is Love: the One who caused us to be; the One who forgives us without question; the One who rescues us in spite of our own doubt and limited understanding; the One who came to us in human form and taught us and loved us and died for us.
In physics class I learned that gravity is the weakest of all the known forces of nature. We routinely defy gravity whenever we launch a rocket into space or even climb a staircase. But because it acts over infinite distances, because it is not polar and can’t be canceled by opposing forces, because it is woven into the very fabric of matter, gravity may one day bring an end to the universe as we know it, eventually conquering all of the other “stronger” forces. I like to think of Love in a similar way: Love may appear to suffer small defeats in the face of virulent hatred, prejudice, or greed; but Love is pervasive, contagious, enduring. Love is woven into the essence of our being; Love will not be canceled by opposing forces; and Love will one day conquer and remake the universe since by Love was all Creation once made.
I think I spent a very productive half hour that Sunday afternoon, sitting in silence, trying to listen. If nothing else, I now have a tiny litany, or even commands from God, that I can repeat to myself whenever the need arises. When I question or doubt, I will remember that God said “I Am.” Then I will remember that God tells me to “Be Still” so that I can know that God is God. Finally, God tells me to “Love” that I may be part of a new creation.