It happened on a recent flight to visit my daughter. Understand, I am a white-knuckle, anxiety filled flyer. I have been known to play superstitious games with myself all the way from wearing, or not wearing, certain articles of clothing to practicing futile attempts at controlling any thoughts that I perceive to be inconsistent with plane staying in the air. I watch the flight attendants faces for any indication that there might be trouble. I listen for bumps and knocks that seem unusual to my untrained ears, finally realizing they can be different depending on one’s placement in the cabin. None of my tricks work as well as a glass of wine and ear buds blaring calming music intended to soothe my overly active brain.
It’s also important to know that I don’t swim. I managed to fail beginning swimming at our local YMCA three times when I was a child. I love the ocean, but prefer to experience it from a lounge chair facing said water with plenty of sun and sand surrounding me. Mai tais are not optional. A boat is good, but only if life jackets are readily available…preferable on my body…and sharks are not part of the equation.
It should be said that my daughter lives in Hawaii. The quickest way to get to her is by air…problem #1. And, it’s an island, which means the flight spends a significant amount of time over water…problem #2. My rational brain knows that should the plane experience a tragic failure, it doesn’t matter if we are over land or water. The outcome will most likely be the same. My irrational brain is sure that it is a major miracle if we make it to our destination.
My daughter is an engineer. She tries to reassure me that aeronautical physics can be trusted. I get caught up in the concept that what appears to be nothing (air) is going to hold up an airplane, which by itself weighs a bazillion pounds before you add in the tonnage of hundreds of people in a variety of sizes and all of our assorted flip flops, shorts and swimwear. I hold onto the idea that multitudes of planes fly every day and to worry about only mine is arrogant. Then, I try not to worry about all of the other flights worldwide.
Like I said, it happened on a recent flight. I pulled my nose out of a book long enough to look out the window. I typically don’t want to busy myself with the visual of what 35,000 feet in the air looks like for fear of a panic event. But, when I actually opened the plastic window cover, took a deep breath and perused the view I had been missing, it was breathtaking! No, not in a scary-bad way. The view was beautiful beyond words, which should thrill the reader, as I won’t make a feeble attempt to describe it. Anyone who has ever flown and bothered to look beyond the interior of the plane knows what I mean. It was an angle of vision that the ancients only dreamed about, yet for a 21st Century citizen it is completely accessible if not somewhat routine. 35,000 feet? Nothing! Imagine the view from the moon! Our plane proceeded forward, calmly parting the clouds as we traveled at an amazing rate of speed.
It was then that my favorite mantra flowed through me: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) No, I am not proficient at meditation. I am wired to think about everything and anything, which makes the art of clearing my thoughts to focus on simply one thing is nearly impossible for me. Yet, when I am suspended in a place where conflicting thoughts bounce around my skull like freshly launched pinballs, that statement does wonders to catch my attention and make my unproductive ruminations momentarily go away.
Let’s look at the entirety of Psalm 46. Biblical scholars classify this as a song of confidence or trust. The word ‘Selah’ appears three times. Although the contemporary meaning of the word ‘Selah’ is unknown, some think it is an ancient musical directive to pause and reflect on specific verses in a song. As you read the passage, know that the ancient writer described unbelievable chaos in terms that his/her contemporaries would understand. The response is always that God is sovereign, God is in control, and God is…
1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations [solitude] he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Unfortunately, we continue to find our security in things other than God. We feel safe and protected in a warm house with plenty of food and water. We feel accepted if we wear the right clothes, drive the right car or run with the right people. We feel secure as a nation if we have the biggest and most advanced technology and weapons. We rely on our government to keep us safe through laws that are designed to protect what we perceive as our basic rights. We trust that the mechanics that inspected the plane knew what they were doing and that the flight crew has our best interests at heart. These thoughts are reinforced every time we test them for truth and things turn out as we hoped they would. Yet, each of these things carries the question, “What if…?” What if the mechanic hates working for that particular airline? What if the government doesn’t see my basic rights the way I do? What if Iran develops a nuclear bomb and aims it in our direction? What if our business fails and we loose our home? What if our friends or the people we love leave us? Then what…then what…then what…? Anxiety prevails…
“Be still” isn’t a call to meditate or reflect. It’s a call to stop! Stop relying on yourself, creature comforts or others for that deep, down peace. All of those things are special and things to embrace as “good” in this life. But, Psalm 46 reminds us there is something beyond the things we can touch, see, hear, taste and feel. All things are of and from God, but God is more than all things. And, when we truly recognize that; when we internalize the belief that God is our strength and refuge; when we see God as our fortress we will experience what Paul so beautifully describes in Philippians 4:7 as, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…”
I felt it on that airplane. No, I wasn’t convinced that the plane would stay in the air because God loves me and would do what I want God to do. I felt a deep and comfortable peace knowing that God is always and everywhere and that no matter what happens, God will always be my strength and refuge. You see, when I remember that, I am inclined to be a kinder, gentler person, more willing to see others through eyes of compassion. Paul knew that, too. Philippians 4:7 continues with…”will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus – God incarnate – who came to teach us who we are in God’s world.
I still worry about life in general, but when I remember to be still – to stop mindlessly spinning out of control – and know that God is, I find the calm and begin to see a world filled with beauty beyond my wildest imagination.