Almost every day, I listen to something inspirational. Downloads, CDs, whatever I can get my hands on that speaks to me, I spend time listening and learning from a variety of spiritual teachers. Many of you know that one of my favorites is Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith. Minister of Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles, CA and author of several books and inspirational CDs and DVDs, his teachings have profoundly impacted my life for years.
He has some favorite sayings, and one of them is a quote from the bible. From Psalms 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.” I hadn’t delved into the bible very much until recently for my interfaith studies, and found myself becoming more intrigued by this passage as I would hear him say it time and again.
Then, a couple days after hearing this verse quoted at an Agape service, it resonated in a very different way that suddenly had impact. It was read by Arthur Samuel Joseph, a leading authority on the human voice, who created a set of CDs I’ve been listening to lately called Voice of a Leader. He read the passage like this:
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Suddenly, worlds of understanding opened up. This simple phrase addressed spiritual truths in a succinct and clear way, much like the short verses of the Yoga Sutras or the Tao Te Ching convey profound ideas in just a few words. For me, this way of distinguishing parts of the passage answers many questions along the path to enlightenment. Here, I share with you my inspirations from this phrase, and may it spark your own process of understanding what it means for you.
Be still and know that I am God.
We begin with perhaps the most controversial and yet most essential aspect of this passage – the word God. We all have different feelings about this word, depending on how we grew up and what spiritual tradition, if any, we were raised with. You may notice some resistance or even disdain with this word, while others may feel joy or fear. This is why I don’t usually use this word, God, but rather the more expansive and undefined terms such as The Divine, The Infinite, Source, Spirit, The Universe. Each of us comes to a term that more befits what feels right and true for us. And ultimately, each of us needs to come to our own understanding of WHAT that is.
I think if we are to find common ground amongst the many possible interpretations of this word, it’s helpful to first understand what God isn’t. God isn’t an old man (or even male, necessarily) with a long beard and robe, sitting in a chair up in the clouds. God isn’t throwing down thunderbolts at you. God isn’t looking at a list of who is good or bad and deciding to dole our punishments or rewards for your behavior. These are anthropomorphized ideas of God – in other words, God made in (hu)man’s image, pictured as some sort of person with magical powers.
What is God?
No, if we’re to talk about something ultimately transcendent, God can’t possibly be these things. The Divine is a transcendent Reality – it is beyond shape, form, physical limitations, and even what we can think of or imagine. Just about every religion agrees that God – whatever they call it, be it Allah, Yaweh, Siva, Goddess, Great Spirit, Olodumare, etc . – is Infinite. That is, there is no limitation, no beginning, no end to what God is.
So any imagination of a “person”-like form is not the reality of what God is, but rather a form that makes it more convenient to relate to something that is beyond form (after all, it’s a bit challenging to have an intimate conversation about the most important things in your life with an amorphous, intangible energy-presence).
Energy and Consciousness
That is something else that is universal – God is energy and a presence that is the source of all power, all life, all love, and all peace. She/he/It (for something infinite would be neither limited to male nor female, and yet also include male and female) is Omnipotent. It is the source of all knowledge and wisdom which reveals itself to us – so it is Omniscient.
This doesn’t mean it is a person listening in to your every thought – again, that’s projecting our fearful human images onto a Presence that can’t be limited by our projections. Rather, that the Divine is Consciousness itself, and is conscious of everything that occurs in every possible space of consciousness – including your own mind. Again, this is not to dole out punishments or rewards for our thinking (we are the ones doing that), but to reveal to us our own ability to become conscious of ourselves and to be empowered to choose what we focus our attention on, rather than unconsciously reacting mentally, emotionally, and physically.
So, what do we have for our new “definition” (which would be an oxymoron, really, of something that can’t be defined) of God? An Infinite energy and presence that is everywhere, that is conscious of all things, that is the source of all power and possibilities.
Beckwith adds another important aspect to what is The Divine. It is constantly expanding into greater and greater possibilities. These possibilities manifest in the continual evolution of our universe. Thus, my understanding of God/Spirit/The Divine is the Infinite presence and source of all, expanding and evolving through all that is. That includes evolving through you and me. This can be food for thought, as you contemplate what God is for you.
Be still and know that I am.
The words “I am” are very powerful words. They are a recognition of existence. There is nothing to prove, but a beingness that is self-evident. God is, period. Everywhere, always. Its evidence is in all that is, for all have emerged from something. The Divine has nothing to prove, for what would something that is Infinite and the source of all have to prove? It simply is, and continues to be. We can feel this when we open ourselves to the interconnectedness of all life and all things in the universe.
There is a presence that is in all things. To be present is to be here. I remember as a child, my teacher would always call roll. “Connie?” the teacher would ask. “Here”, I’d reply. Or we could say “present”. But what we’re really saying is “I am… here.” We assert our existence in this very moment and place. God is the “I am” in all things, asserting its existence always, in all always.
This is why the statement “I am” is a very powerful affirmation. We are asserting our Spirit, our true nature or essence when we say the words “I am.” We don’t have to qualify our essence, by following it with “a boy, a woman, a therapist, an accountant, married, divorced, Hispanic, bisexual, happy, good, guilty… etc.” We don’t have to explain anything. We simply ARE, and that is powerful. When we are in touch with “I am”, we are in touch with the ability to create ourselves anew in each moment, and to allow ourselves to be what we are in that moment, rather than holding on to our old definitions or perceptions of who and how we are. I am.
Be still and know.
Knowing is different from believing or thinking. It is, for lack of a better word, an experience. You can imagine what chocolate tastes like all you want, you can study it, read books about chocolate, watch someone bake with it or eat it and see their expression, even smell it. But you don’t know what chocolate tastes like until you let yourself taste it. And then you KNOW. Ah, that is chocolate. And forever you have that knowing in you.
We are being asked to take that bite, to open up to experiencing what the Divine is. This is not as simple or clear as taking a bite of chocolate. It requires us to let go of all the ideas of what we think is Spirit and let ourselves be open to it revealing itself in our heart. It is an experience that may be inspired by something around us, like a candle flame or the big sky of New Mexico, but is always felt within.
My understanding of knowing is that it is beyond words. Something that is infinite, again, can’t really be described, although we certainly try to approximate the experience of knowing through language, music, movement, or art. But really, it is more akin to something you feel. And it takes patience and time to allow that understanding, that knowing, to unfold for each of us. And when you do know, it’s undeniable.
Now we have the instruction on how to know – by being still. This, of course, is the foundation of meditation. Meditation is the practice of opening ourselves to have an experience, a knowing of The Divine. We sit down and become still, in body, emotions, and mind. The Yoga Sutras tell us that in order to experience Yoga, or Union – which is the oneness of the individual self with the Infinite Self or the Divine – our consciousness must become completely still. That means that all the distractions of thought and emotions have to stop in order to know God.
God is unlimited, infinite presence – so how could one experience it when we’re caught up in limited, finite ideas presenting themselves to us over and over in our mind? The Sutras then say that if we aren’t able to stop these fluctuations in our consciousness, we become identified with those fluctuations, instead of with our true Essence. This is what happens to most of us. If we think we’re unworthy, we become identified with that. If we perceive someone else as more successful than we are, that’s what we experience. If we think we don’t have enough time, we’ll end up creating that.
Meditation, as challenging as it may be, opens the door to know what is beyond all these thoughts and perceptions; our true nature, and the Infinite. When things become still and quiet in the body, mind, and emotions, what IS then can reveal itself. Stillness within and without is the path to knowing.
The sutras say that once our consciousness is quiet, then the one who is seeing/meditating/knowing abides in his or her true essence. We abide in that Presence, the Infinite Consciousness that is everywhere, including in our own inner being. Knowing, and experiencing that happens when we let go of doing and just be. When we have more and more experiences of this during our times of stillness, that beingness eventually permeates our lives. We feel more and more at One with the Infinite Presence, the Infinite Love, and Infinite Power of G-O-D or whatever you call it, and the quality of our life transforms. Allow yourself time to Be, and this will allow you to Be your True Self more and more.
Be still and know that I am God. Words to reflect upon for a lifetime.
Copyright © 2011 by Constance L. Habash