The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Be Still and Know

Psalm 46 contains one of my favourite verses for meditation: “Be still and know that I am God.” (verse 10) It also contains a verse that, as a lover of nature, troubles me. “Come behold the works of the Lord, how he has wrought the desolations in the earth.” (verse 8 NIV)

I’ve seen what happens when a mountain crumbles. I’ve driven past Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass many times. The remaining mountain, standing there by the highway like a badly chipped giant tooth, has been carefully observed for movement since The Slide that destroyed the town of Frank in 1903. I don’t want to be on that road if another chunk comes down.

Translators have had a problem with this verse. The Hebrew word causing the problem is transliterated ‘shammah.’ Comparing translations, it can read: Come and see the desolations, or devastation, awesome works, amazing things, ruins, marvels of God, horrific events, wasteland, places he destroyed, breath-taking wonders… and that’s only in English. Jeremiah used shammah a lot to describe what he foresaw coming to Israel and Judah if they didn’t listen and make a course correction. It wasn’t good for them. “Shock and awe” might be an apt modern paraphrase. And yet, God sent many of his own to plead with the people to change because they were on a dangerous path of self-destruction.

I had a dream. I was in a huge banqueting hall where people had filled their plates with the kind of delicacies we see in advertisements for the finest in cruise cuisine. There was so much fine food that people were skipping nutritious food, taking one bite of each rich pastry and throwing the rest in the garbage. While in the hall, I received a phone call from someone who I knew heard God’s voice more clearly than I did. To make this short, I was arguing with him over the placement of a book in the Bible. Suddenly I heard a very loud gunshot over the phone. It stunned me into silence. I dropped everything and ran to this man’s house expecting to find him dead. He wasn’t. He was sitting in the kitchen. A shotgun leaned against a cupboard.

“You did that!” I exclaimed. “You shot off a gun in my ear. I was in shock! My ears are still ringing! Why would you do something like that?”

“Got your attention, didn’t it? Now are you ready to stop arguing and listen?” he said.

God got my attention too. (The rest of the dream can be found in “Esther in Ephesians” here.)

When I think about it, I remember walking my young son to school. His younger siblings and a couple of other children I was caring for came along, of course. Suddenly our younger son stepped off the sidewalk in pursuit of some distraction. Usually there was no traffic on that road, and he was careful to stay beside me with a hand on the baby carriage, but this time he stepped out on the road just as a vehicle came up behind us. I yanked his arm hard to get him out of danger. I hurt him. He cried, but he was on a dangerous path that could have killed him. A good parent takes that risk when they need a child to pay attention immediately. That was the moment when I realized recurring ear infections left him unable to hear properly and he needed an ear specialist in a bigger city. I went home and made appointments. He now listens for a living.

Recognizing this psalm is about acts of God in the context of national and international conflicts and terrifying battles, changes the way I see it. That it was written by the clan of Korah (identified with one of the most terrifying responses to rebellion in the history of the Children of Israel) means “Be still and know that I am God” (verse10) is not merely a nice platitude. It comes in the middle of a poetic song that remembers that if he needs to, God will open the earth, crumble mountains, make a whip and toss tables, or yank your arm so hard he could dislocate your shoulder to save you from a destructive path if he has to.

But there is another way. I see the assurances when we respond too. He is our help and refuge in trouble. There is no reason to fear (and doesn’t fear provoke us to make some crazy decisions?). There is a river of gladness where God dwells. His voice is greater than the gathered nations’ might. He is the one who stops wars –however he chooses to do it.

In this current time of upheaval, the message of Psalm 46 is vital. It says essentially, let God be God. It may not look like he is coming to straighten things out, but he is –in his time. If you try to usurp his place and take on the role of God yourself, doing things your own way in your own limited wisdom, you are only going to mess up on some essential foundational truths.

Be still. Listen. Stop striving and you will know deeply and intimately who God is.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.


He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

A song needs a singer. I love Marty Goetz’ version of Psalm 46.

Hidden Beauty

For the Scriptures tell us:

Whoever wants to embrace true life

and find beauty in each day

must stop speaking evil, hurtful words

and never deceive in what they say.

Always turn from what is wrong

and cultivate what is good;

eagerly pursue peace in every relationship,

making it your prize.

(1 Peter 3:9-11 TPT)

I’m a stomper. When my anger is triggered by injustice toward myself —or especially toward vulnerable children— I go outside for a stomp. I go out whether it’s raining, or snowing, or if I’m in pain and limping heavily as I shove my walker through four inches of gravel. (Really! Who advertises handicap accessible trails then covers them with thousands of little wheel grabbing rocks?)

I don’t take my camera with me on these jaunts because I am busy composing defensive responses to obtuse accusers (absent from my side but repeating insults in my head) or writing imaginary posts to corrupt authorities (who will probably remain totally unaware of my important opinion) I’m too busy to notice anything photo-worthy. I’m snapping, but not in a sensitive creative way. Sometimes I walk away from a tense situation to avoid saying something to someone I will later regret.

I didn’t realize until these past few days of rumination following an excellent seminar on healing traumatized churches led by Ron Wean of Florida, that my habit of stomping out my rage is a way of getting out of the fight mode of the infamous flight/fight/freeze trilogy of survival responses to trauma (or the triggers of unprocessed memories of trauma stored in the body). Movement renews connection with the body and the logical/creative brain God gave us. I know I’m back when I can feel more than my own emotional pain and can see more than dark ugliness.  The expression, “blind rage” was probably created by someone who was familiar with it.

I’m not anti-emotion. Not at all! Anger can be a useful emotion. It lets us know that all is not well like the check engine light on the car dashboard. The discomfort of angry feelings can let us know that something is not right in ourselves. It can motivate self-examination and change. Anger modified by self-control has been behind many reforms from freedom from slavery to the end of entrenched genocide. We are told: “In your anger, do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26) and “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) I’m not talking about becoming an emotionless doormat. I’m talking about choosing to not return evil for evil (with compounded interest) or seek revenge.

This morning I read this scripture passage in 1 Peter about finding beauty. I had never noticed before that speaking hurtful words in retaliation and neglecting to pursue peace can keep us locked in a world without beauty. Beauty remains hidden in the places where ugliness and darkness demand all the attention. 

I thought that an intentional search for beauty would bring peace, but what if it is the other way around? What if a lack of peace hinders our ability to see beauty? What if peace improves our vision?

What if the pursuit of peace means letting go of wrathful words and unconscious tit-for-tat exaggerations and lopsided partial truths formed whilst in survival mode? What if the pursuit of peace means leaving our own devices and turning to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who entered our trauma out of love and compassion to bring us his peace, the peace that passes understanding?

Lord, remind us to turn from what is wrong and cultivate what is good. Open our eyes to see beauty again as we pursue peace in every relationship. Heal our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

Peace

“I leave behind with you—peace; I give you my own peace and my gift is nothing like the peace of this world.” – Jesus (in John 14:27, Phillips paraphrase)

Most people think of peace as the absence of hostilities or of war. Even when we talk about personal peace, we often mean the absence of things like annoying interruptions, chaos, lack of resources, or worries that something will interfere with our priorities. I wonder if the peace that Jesus offers is not like that. I wonder if his peace is not the absence of something but the presence of something.

What if peace is more like completeness? What if the peace he left us means having all the tools necessary for a task, or being so convinced that God will provide everything we need that we can not only survive storms, but walk into them with assurance that it’s going to be alright?

What if this perfect peace creates an appreciation of divine priorities. What if this peace that passes understanding comes with complete trust that God loves us and allows us to engage with him in his purposes? What if we become aware of perfect peace flowing through us and allow it to help us to perceive the direction of the wind of the Holy Spirit?

What if the peace that is nothing like the peace of the world means Christ has made more available to us than we ever imagined?

Shift

Two years ago this week, we drove across the province to visit family and see our granddaughter perform in her first play. One warm spring afternoon we explored the grounds of Mission Hills Winery. We stood on this spot overlooking the vineyards and lake –away from the children’s hearing– and discussed what we would do if our world shut down because of this new virus from China.

Nearby, the children were jumping through a huge iron circular sculpture. They said they were passing through it into a new space and a new time.

Sometimes children are more perceptive than adults.

A few days later we hurried home, while it was still allowed, to sit out the lockdown in our own house. By then we all knew the world had shifted.

Jesus, the world changer said this to his friends: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)

Our own world has shifted even more than we expected since that day. We now live in this beautiful place. He still reassures us as we walk into this new space and new time, “Don’t let your heart be troubled and don’t be afraid.” Stay close to God. He gives his peace.

Creative Meditations for Lent. Word prompt: Shift

When You Just Don’t Know

“Where is peace to be found? The answer is surprising but clear. In weakness. Why there? Because in our weakness, our familiar ways of controlling and manipulating our world are being stripped away, and we are forced to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are most vulnerable, the peace that is not of this world is mysteriously hidden.”

Henri Nouwen

Sometimes it’s not until we have reached the end of our ideas, our energy, and our optimism that we are ready to ask God for wisdom. Sometimes it’s not until we wait –for we know not what– that we can start to hear the voice that speaks in silence.

He often starts with, “I love you. Do you know that? Do you know that?”

You’re Gonna Be Ok

So I’ve learned from my experience
    that God protects the vulnerable.
    For I was broken and brought low,
    but he answered me and came to my rescue!
 Now I can say to myself and to all,
    “Relax and rest, be confident and serene,
    for the Lord rewards fully those who simply trust in him.”

Psalm 116:6,7 TPT

On the way back from an appointment with a medical specialist, (an eleven hour return trip for me) I stopped by this reservoir on the Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta. On that day two years ago, I received more information about another complication in my already complex health condition. It didn’t help that I forgot the backpack with my wallet in it at the place I was staying. I needed it for my health insurance card for the hospital and my credit card to leave my car in the underground parking maze. I went back for it, praying the whole time I wouldn’t miss my appointment and arrived, frazzled, with seconds to spare. (Have you noticed God is right on time but never early?)

On the trip home, I stopped in this beautiful place and had a chat with God. I felt anxious and very vulnerable. I reflected upon the reflection and realized the water could never produce the beauty it bore. Like the water I didn’t have to manufacture my own peace. I simply needed to keep my eyes on the giver of peace, whose nature is peace. I don’t know how to relax and rest when I know I can forget important things like my wallet. Serenity is not a natural trait. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace because he IS peace.

Back in the car, a song played these words, “It’s not the end. It’s not the end. You’re gonna be ok.”*

If I am in him and he is in me, then his peace is my peace. This is more than reflection. This is absorption. Learning that I am loved and accepted allows me to become what I am not without him – and I m not without him because he promised to never leave. I am changing.

This season brings more challenges. We have decided to move to another part of the province to be closer to adult children. They have pointed out that we are aging and need more help. They are urging us to let them do that for us. I am tempted to be overwhelmed by the daunting task of fixing up our property to sell, de-cluttering, and looking at finding a new place to live in a city where real estate prices are double what they are here. The process of parting with a houseful of stuff with so many memories attached is emotionally daunting. The prospect of parting with good friends made over 36 years in this place I love is even more daunting.

For the past few months I have felt the Lord telling us to prepare for a change. What that change was I didn’t know. The thought of moving into a place without stairs, where it would be easier for me to get around, felt like preparing for the end, like seeing a sign my exit ramp loomed up ahead. Then a little while ago, a prophetic artist had a painting for me. It was of a woman joyfully walking beside a lake. She said, “God wants you to know it’s not over yet. He has more for you.”

Today I choose to walk in God’s peace. I may be surrounded by half-sorted boxes of art supplies, music books, sewing fabric, and writing materials potential, but like the woman walking beside still water that day at the reservoir, and the woman dancing beside a sun-dappled lake in the painting, I will simply trust, leave the past behind, and take one step at a time toward the next thing.

Care to join me?

*”It’s Gonna Be Okay” by Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, and Seth Mosley