Be Still by Natalie Weaver


Natalie Weaver editedBe still, and know that I am God.

During this season of Advent, I have found great comfort in one biblical passage, Psalm 46:10, which translates as “Be still, and know that I am God.”  

I take comfort here, when the rest fails me.  I find myself, especially during this season, often unable to pray in the way I think prayer is supposed to be offered.  Even though I know quiet, non-cognitive prayer that thrums like one’s heartbeat is as legitimate as a dozen rosaries or impassioned petitions, I sometimes struggle to affirm myself in this.  Like many academic theologians, I get lost in my mind that knows too many critiques, deconstructions, and rational responses.  I teach on the theology of suffering, and I spend hours every week with spiritual caregivers, healthcare providers, funeral directors, and chaplains, who discuss hospice, childhood cancers, car accidents, and stunning grief.   I teach on pastoral care, spirituality, and addiction, where we explore the complicated nature of hope in the face of largely hopeless circumstances.  I am not sure I ever believed in miracles or lucky rabbit feet.  I am in equal parts terrified and dumbfounded by humanity’s divine pleas that go unanswered. I am, in addition to a dozen other descriptors, depending on the time of day, a critical realist, an empiricist, a stoic, perhaps an epicurean, definitely an existentialist, and, Lord, have mercy, a feminist.   Prayer in both traditional ecclesial and fiery personal senses often struggles in this company.

Part of my problem is that my sense of faith that motivates prayer does not accord with how I often encounter its meaning in others, even those who share my religion.  I do not think of faith as a matter of receiving a blessing, a reward, an outcome, deliverance, or even a heavenly afterlife.  Such things seem to exist and persist independently of my state of mind.  I also do not experience faith particularly as an assent to doctrine or concretized in a particular religious idiom.  Those too are in some ways more sociological than existentially essential.  Rather, to me, faith is something like a disposition of openness, willingness, and favor toward the contingencies and actualities of one’s life.  In a simple way, faith is perhaps best reduced to a mindset of sustained good humor and appreciation about it all.   So, I am reduced to praying for peace in attitude, if anything comes out at all.

When asked then, as I was the other night, by my graduate ministry students, what I believed and how I prayed, I could share with them this painting I created, which captures for me the fundamental stance of equanimity and graciousness that faith requires during the prolonged advent that is life itself.  The image is of a black Jesus.  The image implies the violence of the crucifixion as well as racially motivated violence of today. It also implies the Resurrection and the Pentecost, in the face of an ordinary human being, who is at once battered and victorious, sleeping and waking, dying and rising.  It invites me to be quiet, to adjust my attitude, and in all things, to remember as I wait, Be still and know that I am God.  My image I here share is accompanied by a poem.

be stillI go to him
He calls to me
Invites me to his dinner

I go to him
I take him in
The leaven wine he offers

I had not an agenda
When I came
For what he offered

It need not be
Eternity
For me to join the laughter

The other kings
They offered things
That were not theirs to offer

But this one brings
Just charity
The wholeness of his offer

Though in the years
Of suppers there
The guests forgot their host

He lights the wax
And buses by
The wine that we might toast

Sometimes when
The crowd comes in
I search for him in rooms

And find him
Cleaning every one
Its dust and webs and tombs

I don’t disturb
I cannot help
My host is very busy

I want to hold
His respite pose
And love him like a baby

I go to him
I take him in
The wax and wine he offers

For this alone
It is enough
I need no other promise

 

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

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Categories: Advent, Feminism and Religion, Poetry, Prayer

Tags: , ,

7 replies

  1. I’m absolutely floored by this painting. A computer screen isn’t the best way of looking at an artwork. Having looked as closely as I could, the side of the face in shadow appears to have the eye slightly open which is just wonderful. I take one line from your poem ‘… the wholeness of his offer …’ I try to see God as a being beyond gender and, of course, race. A being who is waiting for us to become aware of Love, Respect and Peace.

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  2. So beautiful, Natalie. This post speaks to my condition. Thank you!

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  3. I love the “be still” part. I try to spend a few minutes several times a day being still. After breakfast and before I get up and come here to my computer and sit down and go to work. In the middle of the afternoon when I’m pretty much finished with my work. I live in a fairly noisy urban neighborhood, but my windows don’t face the street, so if my closest neighbors are quiet, what I hear is the quiet, the stillness. Sometimes the local birds break into sound, but I think that’s actually part of the stillness, isn’t it? So are the squirrelly love calls in the spring. Some days, the stillnesses are the best parts of the days. Thanks for writing this post for us.

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  4. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

    Our world in the Divine could be more the truth than the Divine in the World. But if we say, our existence is embraced “in the divine” how does that work? It works because the divine is inherent in all existence.

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  5. Dear Natalie
    Thank you so much for sharing this struggle to pray – which accords with my experience and questions.
    I have found stillness a place of possibility – although sometimes it is hard to achieve, and sometimes it is just stillness (which is good in itself). Sometimes it is accompanied by an insight or image or sense of lovely Sophia who breathes with me.
    I found some Buddhist meditation techniques helpful for learning (and re-learning) how to be still and Sadhana, the book by Anthony De Mello has helpful exercises.
    I do hope that you are able to find this way of prayer a place of goodness for yourself, and thank you for sharing your painting and poem.
    In appreciation
    Margaret

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  6. What’s interesting to me in your excellent post, Natalie, is how you and I get caught by what’s “supposed to be” (in this case, what prayer’s supposed to be). Instead I believe we both need to remember in our practice as well as our thea/ology that “faith is something like a disposition of openness, willingness, and favor toward the contingencies and actualities of one’s life.” For me, this doesn’t “reduce [me] to praying for peace in attitude, if anything comes out at all.” Instead it means I have to welcome it all, everything that comes to me — in my life, in my thinking, in my feeling, in my sensing — as a part of my prayer (which for me is usually a non-cogitive type of meditation). Then I don’t have to “adjust my attitude,” which to me at least implies once again doing what’s “supposed to be.” Instead accepting and honoring, even embracing, what is leads to the next step, the next feeling, the next attitude, without my pushing it to be a certain way.

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  7. So many heart-similar responses here I can only say “thank you”. It is encouraging to find others who experience prayer and spirituality as I do. and as the poem says:
    “But this one brings
    Just charity
    The wholeness of his offer”

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