“Be still and know that I am God!” Psalm 46:1-3,8-11
“The kingdom of God is already among you.”Luke 17:20-21
When she recently visited Volmoed, our American friend Sandi Levi gave me a book by a well known travel writer, Pico Iyer, entitled The Art of Stillness. I took the slim volume with me on our recent travels to Italy, intrigued by its sub-title, Adventures in Going Nowhere. What could that possibly mean, I thought, as we embarked on the plane with a very long journey and many adventures ahead of us. We were not going nowhere; we were definitely going somewhere and, moreover, with the help of Google, we could already visualize the towns we would visit and the apartments we had booked. But there I was, taking my seat on the airplane and settling down to read about Adventures in Going Nowhere.
Within a page or two I had got the message. “Going nowhere,” Pico Iyer told me, “isn’t about turning your back on the world; its about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” It is an adventurous journey into stillness even in the midst of busyness or a hectic travel schedule, in order to gain fresh perspective on life and what it means to love. A journey inward that enables us to perceive reality differently whether we are on a jet plane to Europe, a ship in the Antarctic, a car ride into the Karoo, or simply staying at home. Nowhere is everywhere and anywhere we find ourselves. And “adventuring into nowhere” is not turning our backs on the world but learning to see the world more clearly and loving it more deeply. As such, it is not an escape from reality but an adventure in living and loving, an adventure as great if not greater than setting off for distant lands on a jet aircraft.
Pico Iyer does not write as a Christian, but his words brought to mind two passages in Scripture. In Psalm 46, written and sung during a time of turmoil in Israel, the psalmist exhorts his people to “be still” in order to discern the presence of God n the midst of what was happening all around them. This was not an invitation to navel gaze or escape from the world into some pious ghetto, but an invitation to embark on a journey into the mystery we call God in order to see the bigger picture and live accordingly. “Be still and know that I am God.” The psalmist’s invitation remains pertinent for us. We desperately need to be still in order to discern the reality of God’s purpose and activity in a world in crisis, as well as in the many situations that cause us sorrow and grief, hurt and harm. To be still and know that “God is our refuge and strength…a very present help in trouble” does not eradicate the threats we experience, but it provides us with the resources to respond to them with courage and hope. To be still and know God is an adventure in faith into that dimension within reality we call the kingdom or reign of God.
This brings us to the other passage of scripture that comes to mind, the story we read from Luke’s gospel. Some Pharisees put Jesus to the test. When would the kingdom of God come, they demanded. Jesus replied: “The kingdom of God does not come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says ‘Look here!’ or “There it is!’ Because the kingdom is already among you.” These words of Jesus have been variously translated. I have used Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message. Most people will be more familiar with the KJV translation “the kingdom of God is within you.” But this is misleading for it suggests that the kingdom of God is confined to personal piety separate from what is going on around us in the world. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ is simple: you do not need to look to the future or seek God’s kingdom somewhere inside you, for God’s kingdom is staring us in the face if only we would open our eyes to see the signs of what God is doing to bring healing and wholeness to people and the world. But this requires practicing the “art of stillness” whether we are engaged in the struggle for justice and peace, simply trying to cope with everyday life, or going through the dark night of grief, sorrow and pain. It is all about the adventure of faith discovering the treasure of God’s grace for our lives which as Jesus said, is often hidden in our own backyard (Matthew 13:44).
The adventurous “journey going nowhere” then, is not a journey into empty space or nothingness, but a journey into the presence of the mystery we call God, the God we have come to know in Jesus. And as we embark on this adventure we discover that this mystery is none other than the One “in whom we live, move and have our being,” the mystery that fills all space and time, the mystery that enfolds us in love. So let us for a moment journey into stillness with the help of the Psalmist who discovered that wherever he journeyed God was already there:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)
John de Gruchy Volmoed 28 April 2016