Here is the first part of my mini-retreat talk at Nellis Air Force Base a couple of weeks ago. The first two installments were posted yesterday and the day before so you can go back and read them if you didn’t check in earlier this week! I began with a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I’ve known this prayer for 40 years, at least, and have always loved it. It’s appropriate any time so I look for opportunities to share. Though this is the beginning of my talk, it’s the last of the installments. It’s a little longer. But I hope you’ll find it worth the read and contemplating afterwards. If not my words, perhaps the ideas of Edward Sri or Jackie Troutman, or best of all, the words of Scripture and of Jesus Himself, will inspire you!
Let us pray: Most High and glorious God, bring light to the darkness of our hearts. Give us right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity. Lord, give us insight and wisdom so we might always discern Your Holy and True will. Amen.
The Nellis AFB (Our Lady of the Skies) CWOC invited me to come and spend a day with them reflecting on the Psalms of the Old Testament in preparation for the Lenten season. The Day of Reflection was entitled “Be Still and Know that I am God” from Psalm 46, verse 10.
We reflected on several different types of Psalms: a song of Zion (the retreat’s title Psalm), praise, lament, trust and confidence, wisdom. And we did so deliberately and meditatively, mindful of the sacredness of God’s Word and of our desire to open our hearts to move closer to God, and into a deeper relationship with Him. I’d like to focus now on that first and title Psalm from our time together in the Lord. “Be still…”
To “be still” means to listen attentively, and to focus on what our God is saying to us. We must stop our busy-ness and our distractions to hear the voice of the Lord. This stillness aides us spiritually as we lift up our hearts and our minds to the Lord.
The 40 days of Lent that the Church places before the Triduum and Easter – graciously, generously – allows us that opportunity of being still. After I chose the title for our Retreat, “Be Still and Know That I Am God,” from Psalm 46:10, I found this online: Jackie Trottmann, a blogger who writes about Christian meditation, tells us that the Hebrew translation for ‘be still’ is ‘stop striving, let go, surrender.’
Jackie heard a sermon at church focused on the passage from Mark, Chapter 4, where Jesus uses the words, “Peace, be still!” With an exclamation point for emphasis. She was surprised and actually had to laugh when her pastor illustrated the literal meaning of be still.
The story is also told in Matthew and Luke which portrays an extremely busy day where Jesus was healing people, casting out demons and speaking. While the scripture doesn’t say this, the picture is painted that Jesus was exhausted and overwhelmed. He requested a boat to escape the crowds that were coming to him.
On the journey, a huge storm rolled in. The disciples were afraid for their lives. They looked for Jesus to help them and found him fast asleep from exhaustion. They were terrified because of the storm and woke Jesus up. According to Mark’s account, Jesus was not happy. In his frustration he yelled, “Peace! Be still!” And the storm and huge waves stopped immediately. The literal translation of Be Still, taken from the Greek, is – Hush! And in modern terms: Shut Up!
And we don’t just want to be quiet. We do want to listen attentively. What is God communicating to us?
He does have a message just for you. God will be as involved in your life as you will allow. God does not force His way into our lives. He gives us invitations to participate in the Divine life often. But are we paying attention? Are we really receptive to what He wants to share with us?
Participation in the Divine Life is another way to think of grace. God’s grace is abundant; it’s overflowing. We just need to open ourselves up to that.
I was told one time about a painting of a person standing facing an ocean of God’s grace, but only holding up a small cup in which to receive it. We are the ones who can limit God’s grace, His gifts to us. He wants to pour a torrent, a giant wave, of grace upon us. He wants us to drown in it, really.
How sad that we so often think we only deserve or can only hold just a tiny fraction of God’s grace.
Surrender – it ain’t easy
If we will surrender, a tough concept for Military members (and their families), I know, to what God wants us to have, we will find the peace and the forgiveness, the love and the mercy, that God has to offer. Surrendering to God is about allowing God to be in control. It is about, ultimately, obedience to the Father’s will. And, of course, our best example of that is found in the Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
So a willingness to surrender to God, who is all knowing and who has a Plan of Salvation for our lives is the only key to true peace and happiness. It brings us closer to God in the here and now.
And, during Lent we are given the opportunity to emulate Jesus, to become more Christ-like, in meaningful and significant ways.
We all know that the 40 Days of Lent mirror Jesus’ 40 Days in the desert just before He begins His public ministry. Jesus is given a Mission by the Father and Jesus’ humility and obedience to the Father’s will are an example for each of us to follow. Jesus is our brother (through baptism) and we, too, are children of God (because we are the ‘adopted sons and daughters of the Father. (Found in Galatians 4:5-7)
According to author Edward Sri, each of the 3 temptations Jesus experiences in the desert relate to the first 3 major trials of Israel in the Exodus. And in these 3 temptations we can see how our 3 disciplines of Lent are on display through Jesus’ response to them. And, praise God, the failings of Israel and all of us are symbolically overcome by Jesus’ victory over the devil.
- The first temptation involved hunger (This is related to the discipline of fasting) Jesus quotes from Deut. 8:3 in Matthew 4:1-4): “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word tht comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus fasts for 40 days. Our true spiritual hunger is our desire for God; and His for us. Our hunger is not for food except for that which is Jesus as the Bread of Life. And we can satiate our hunger and thirst for God when we fast from anything that gets in the way of our communion with Him, our relationship with Him.
- The second temptation involved testing God (This is related to the discipline of almsgiving/works of charity) Jesus quotes Deut 6:16 in Matthew 4:5-7): “Do not pt the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus rejects the goods of the world because He knows what is eternally Good and will always satisfy. Trusting that God will take care of us means we can be generous with His gifts; none of them are ours anyway. Whether it’s giving away things we thought we needed or even might need ‘some day’ or actually abstaining from foods or activities that we love, we realize we don’t ‘need’ those to be authentically happy, we are showing our faith in God’s ability to provide for us what is most essential – spiritually. And we are growing more in our trust and faith in God’s love and care for us so that we don’t need to ‘hang on’ to earthly things to feel secure or content. We won’t feel the need to ‘test God.’ Or another way to say that might be, we won’t see a need to doubt God’s desire of all that is good for us. For God is the ultimate Good. He wants us in relationship with Him. There is no need to say to God, “If you love me, you will do…‘X’…for me.” We just have to look to the cross to know He loves us. He loves us so much, He dies for us, to save us.
- The third trial for Jesus in the desert involved worshipping false gods or idols. (This is related to the discipline of ) Jesus quotes Deut 6: 13-14 in Matthew 4: 8-10): “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Jesus lets the devil know in no uncertain terms where His loyalty lies and that is with God, the Creator of the Universe, our Heavenly Father who loved us into being. In this passage we are reminded by Jesus that only God is to be worshiped and adored. Prayer is lifting our hearts and minds to God – it’s true communion with Him. We are not looking for what will fill our hearts anywhere but in God’s love for us.
You know, when we spend any time really thinking about what’s just happened in the desert, with these 3 temptations we see in crystal clear imagery that Jesus fights our battles for us. He does. Oh, we will be tempted; we will stumble and fall. But the ultimate Victory is Jesus’ victory and we can find shelter there, respite there, comfort there; we can find joy there. That’s what we’ll see on Easter Sunday, early in the morning when it’s still dark and we could mistake it for night. That’s the Resurrection – Jesus defeating the darkness of evil and “marching into hell for a heavenly cause” – to get us and save us, leaving none of us behind. Edward Sri states in his book about the Gospel of Matthew, God With Us, that “the Church’s annual celebration of Lent helps us experience the victory of Jesus in our own lives today…We too prepare to battle sin” in these 40 days. And that takes trust in God, unlike the Israelites in the desert who kept abandoning their faith in God’s promises, and it requires a faithfulness to our heavenly Father, just like Jesus