Text: Psalms 46: 10
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
My mother says that the word that I used the most when I was a child is “Bore Adikyuvaa” (I am getting bored). I just could not sit in one place. It was a nightmare for her to take me to church as I found ‘sitting still’ impossible. Instead of Worshiping God, she was busy policing me. She says “Whenever I used to take you to church, due to exhaustion, the next day I would inevitably fall ill.” ‘Being still’ was an art I knew nothing about. But I realize that this word ‘Bore’ has gained currency in a time when there are so many options that cater to release us from our boredom. But when we look back there is no word for boredom in ancient or Biblical Greek. Some suggest that this word came into English dictionary only after the Industrial Revolution. In a world of smartphones, ipods, ipads, micro-slim televisions and play stations we have learnt the art of getting bored. Why so? It is said that the man today has become so distant from himself that he dreads being alone or doing nothing. The culture around has put so much emphasis on ‘doing’ that ‘doing nothing’ is wasting time. Sitting still is unproductive. You need to perform. You need to prove yourself. This emphasis on activity and productivity is what has made us look at old age, disability, and sickness with such dread and disdain. Humans are sadly being defined by what they produce and not by “Who they are”.
But what happens to people if they are alone or they are in solitude. Psychologist Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi (pronounced as chick-sent-me-high) has done research on people where people are asked to set their alarm on a random time when they are alone. People are asked to write what they are thinking, doing or feeling when that happens. His conclusion on how people respond to being alone and still is very revealing. “When people are left alone, undistributed by noise or activity, their mind naturally drifts toward an awareness of discontent, a sense of inadequacy, anxiety about the future, and a chronic sense of self- preoccupation. Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos. When we are left alone, with demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing.” He further adds “To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is readily available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is rarely enjoyed.” If this diagnosis is precise which I feel is true, then our greatest fear is to be with ourselves. We do not avoid people or situation as much we avoid ourselves. Our addictions to gadgets, televisions, Twitter, Facebook, all help us to avoid knowing who we really are. We are strangers to ourselves.
It is in such a scenario that the Psalms 46: 10 says “Be still, and know that I am God…”. For us who have lost the art of ‘being still’ is it a wonder that we feel God is too distant and far away. This is why sitting down and reading the Bible is such a herculean ordeal. It is boring. This is why praying is not easy. Prayer is a time when we become aware of the thoughts that bother us. Prayer is the time when we become aware of our anxieties. It is uncomfortable. Prayer is not just an endless litany of our needs. It is also a time to open ourselves to listen to the voice of God that says “Be Still, and Know that I am God..” It is a time of knowing ourselves. It is the moment of surrender where we tell God “Take me as I am.” It is a time where we set apart the mask that we carry around. It is the moment where we are aware of our vulnerabilities and woundedness. Herman Hesse says “We hate in others what we hate in ourselves the most.” When we see the trait in others that we dislike in ourselves, we transfer our hate to others. We have found a scapegoat. We will keep running away from ourselves. Prayer is the time where we become available to God and ourselves. As a child I remember a story that has left a deep impact on me. This story I heard when I was in the Standard 3. So it is adapted according to the way I interpreted the story as a child. “There was a boy called Jim. It was his practice to come back from school and go to the nearby chapel and pray. He did this very regularly. The sexton of the Chapel noticed this boy coming every day after school to the Chapel. He was pleased to see the devotion of the boy. But he also noticed that Jim just spent 10 seconds at the Chapel. The sexton thought of confronting the boy on the duration of time he spends in prayer. Next day Jim comes to the Chapel. He kneels down and after 10 seconds he was on his legs. At the door he had the Sexton waiting for him. “Hello sonny”. Jim smiled back. Sexton continued “I see you come everyday to the Chapel. Very good. But I see you pray just for 10 seconds. That is not very good. Don’t you have more time for the Lord?” Jim smiled and replied “Uncle, I do not know any long prayer. I come here and surrender myself to the Lord by praying ‘Jesus, this is Jim.’” The sexton did not know what to say after listening to Jim. Days after Jim continued coming to the chapel to pray. One day when he was on his way back, Jim met with an accident where he suffered from a head injury and fracture in the right leg. He was admitted in the hospital. One day when the doctor came for rounds he asked the Nurse “Two days back when I came for rounds, everyone around was blaming us and cursing. The mood here was very heavy. But now I see smile on the peoples face in this ward. What exactly happened?” The Nurse replied “Ever since the boy Jim came to the hospital, everyone just sees smile on his face. He has a head injury and a fracture. But still he keeps smiling and his smile has become infectious.” The Doctor approached Jim “My boy I am happy to see you. But I wonder with the pain that you have how do you manage to smile?” Jim replies “Doctor, everyday I pray to my Jesus saying ‘Jesus, this is Jim.’ In my hour of pain, in the time when I am alone I can hear Jesus saying to me ‘Jim, this is Jesus.’
We live as if everything will remain as it is now. But we ‘will’ face sickness. We ‘will’ get old. We ‘will’ lose all things of ‘doing’ that define us today; our job, our beauty and our possessions. Then we will be left only with ourselves. But we dread ourselves. It is time we surrender our fears in prayer. It is time we come as we are in front of our God in prayer. Let us discern the presence of God. Let us ‘Be Still’ and Know that He is God.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church