Be Still and Know
By Rev. Elizabeth Rechter, Executive Director
My spiritual director gave me a great gift once, a tool I now use often. After she had listened to what was on my heart she asked me, "Is there a story from scripture that comes to mind as you hear your own story?"
It is a good question. What she taught me was how to recognize my story within the larger story of faith. When a matching biblical story does emerge, it helps me hear wisdom beyond my own, and I feel less alone. The sacred texts of our traditions help us know others have traveled here, and God was with them.
The story of Job has been on my heart these days and I have been paying attention. Job suffers extraordinary loss in his life. Much of his loss comes violently. His whole family is slaughtered. His property is destroyed. And finally he himself becomes deathly ill. His disease, a kind of leprosy, is so unpleasant and frightening that all people avoid him. The story is introduced as some kind of game between Satan and God to see if this faithful man is faithful because of his earthly prosperity or, as Satan suggests, his faith is in the life he owns. How will Job's faith hold up, we're asked to observe, when he’s stripped of everything he owns, everyone he loves?
How is my faith holding up? The events of the past month test us all to our core. For those in the LBGTQ community, especially those who watched friends die at the hands of a violent man, painful questions must arise. What kind of world is it when you feel you must defend your own humanity to others? When the message is conveyed that some are made in God’s image and others are not? The list is a long one, and getting longer: white lives seem to be treated as more valuable than black lives, male lives more valuable than female lives, rich lives more valuable than poor lives. I don't know a greater pain than to be rejected, ignored, or dismissed simply for being who I am.
Job's friends are no help. In fact, they add to Job's pain. They join the public opinion and suggest that Job is guilty. While they say they don't know the reason, (because in fact, there is not a reason), they posit, “You must have brought this on yourself. Just plead guilty before God,” they tell him. In their own fear they are trying to find peace by suggesting Job is to blame for all his trouble. He is left more alone than he would have been without his friends.
Their chatter creates its own chaos. It is the choppy, rough water at the surface of all things. It is the ever present noise of fear and judgment, not unlike the news programs weighing in from every angle until the entire population is left feeling exhausted and unhinged.
But this is the small story within the larger book of Job.
It is the conversation Job has with God that is most stunning. Job goes to God and releases all the contents of his heart ... his fury toward God, his rage at life that seems like a setup for despair. Job brings his authentic self, full of sorrow and anger.
Job’s story has reminded me of the need for listening to our depths in the midst of chaos around and within. Where can we be heard at our depths? Where do these conversations occur? We need them. We must have them to move forward.
A Prayer from Brother Roger of Taize
O Risen Christ, you go down
to the lowest depths
of our human condition,
and you burden yourself
with what burdens us.
Still more, you even go
to visit those who have died
without being able to know you.
And even when within us
we can hear no refrain
of your presence,
you are there.
Through your Holy Spirit
you remain with us.
“Be still and know, I am God,” the contemplative soul urges us. It is advice from a true friend in tumultuous times.
And Job, in the midst of an unimaginable storm, finds his way to its wisdom, and into the stillness of God. From here, he utters these treasured words: I know. He has traveled far in his heart to hear these words. After remaining deep in conversation with God, he emerges. Nothing has changed in his life circumstances, except that he has met with God. "I know," he says.
I know my redeemer lives.
My spiritual director helps me listen here: beneath the chop, deep in my heart. She holds a still place and helps me learn to hold that place for myself … not to erase or resolve my circumstances or the accompanying pain, but to listen for holy wisdom residing deep within me.
Contemplative life and practice is needed for these days. Your ministry of holding space in yourselves and for others brings healing and peace.
Blessings for the journey,