“Be Still and Know: Living into the Gaps”
Seattle Pacific Baccalaureate Address, Spring 2013
I am deeply appreciative of the invitation to share with you all tonight. It is of course an honor, but even more it is a gift. When we venture onto a road we have been called upon we do it not for the money or the promise of what is at the end, but because we know it is simply unfaithful to not be on the road and the work God calls us to is its own end. But when others join you upon that road or give you affirmation that your work has meant something to them, that is truly a gift. So thank you to the Baccalaureate Planning Team for such a gift.
Graduates, I imagine you are finding yourself somewhat nostalgic in this moment. Sitting in this arena perhaps draws you back to your very first moments on this campus four years ago. Perhaps you remember being called down onto the floor to stand amongst 200 hundred strangely robed men and women fingering strange baggies in their hand, eagerly waiting to welcome you to campus. Perhaps you recall those first awkward glances of leaving your parents, your siblings, those you had shared your whole life with to know find yourself anew.
Perhaps you are recalling the mixture of excitement loss, joy and anxiety all balled up into one now independent compression of sleeplessness.
Perhaps you are recalling the laughter, the inside jokes, the strange traditions, the sleepless nights, the vehement arguments, the numerous jobs you were going to have to string together just to pay tuition and if you were lucky, eat…
I suspect that these are the feelings that are rising and falling within you right now, not because I was once a freshman, now 20 years ago. I suspect this because four years ago I was a new professor, freshly minted with fancy letters behind my name, an expensive albeit elegant and fly robe, and most importantly, a job!
In fact, I had the joy of having some of you in one of my first classes, UFDN 1000 in the spring of our first year.
Nervous, excited, tired beyond belief… I found myself asking some deeply existential questions. Why am I here? How am I going to do this successfully? Can this really be home in the way home is home?
By the spring of our first year, in many ways, we had flown breathlessly off a cliff of a new journey and screaming with joy and fear because we could not see where we were going to land.
But here you are… Having gotten your bearings, more or less, you find yourself having landed, upon a small precipice of safety and able to catch your breath and look how far you have journeyed and how far you have flown.
But upon this landing you find that you are not on the ground yet. You are not finished yet.You are on a precipice and it seems a long way down and perhaps find yourself asking yourself these deep existential questions “why”…. “how”…..
But this evening I want us to reflect together on the practice of “Selah.” Of rest, of looking back. In Psalms we see this passage in a variety of moments:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
As we read and breathe “Selah” with Israel’s songs and proclamations we see rest not simply as a cessation of movement, a chance to chill, play a few video games before the real work begins. No, Selah is a rest of remembering, of recalling so that we might turn forward and lean in to the uncertainty that is before us.
Selah is the breathe in the gap, in the in between when you are looking ahead and the distance seems to far, the mountain too high, the promise to vague and illusory. So all there is left for us is to remember.
It is in this moment that I would like us to return to those deep existential questions of our first year, how? why? when? But perhaps these are not the questions of Selah, of waiting, of remembering… perhaps instead we must as a different question. perhaps the question of Selah is who…. Who has encountered us in our time here? who is the one who has sustained us and kept us from falling, who is the one whose power and strength and compassion breaks through the intermiinable, deep, dark.
Israel’s rest, Israel’s reflection is not a question of how will they get out or where will they go, or why do they suffer, but it is a question of who goes before and who draws them in from behind.
But so often we want our lives to be full of power and certainty. We want to be a torrent, a river rushing with strength, cutting a path through the earth. We want to be the energy, have direction, to be….
But perhaps the pauses of psalms, so many of them mid-stream, are halting the reader before they move on to another verse, slowing the readers desire for an answer for completion simply to remember who you are, who are you with, who is for you, who is in your midst.
Perhaps in these pauses we can begin to ask a new question.
What does it mean for us if this is the question that we ask resting upon this landing, this precipice?
In slowing to ask this question of who, of slowing to remember who was for us and who is in our midst we risk dissipating the river of our hopes and aims. In looking back you risk taking your eyes off the path before you and perhaps falling or missing something so we keep running with our eyes ahead.
But sometimes when water runs too quickly it simply collects at the bottom of the hill, sometimes it floods, sometimes it destroys the things in its path because it cannot be absorbed by the earth beneath it.
But water that is slowed begins to seep into the earth, this water that moves in drips and drabs gets drawn up into flowers and trees, collects in small channels to water the inhabitants around it.
To rest and remember is to ask yourself who am I for. Who is for me? To rest and remember is to risk slowing down, it is to risk tripping on something unexpected, it is to risk losing a part of yourself because now that gift, that relationship has been sown into the very ground beneath your feet and is sprouting up as a lily, or a green grass, or a yong sapling and you cannot ask for it back.
To rest and remember is to risk finding you are someone new and that there are people in your midst who share your fear, your hope and your possibilities.
So as you leave this place this evening, take your final walks through the meandering sidewalks, share hugs and laughter with friends you may not see for a long time…
rest… breathe… remember
And as you do walk from this place not in a torrent of power, with the anxiety of how or why or when… Selah. breathe. look back. allow yourself to seep into the lives whom God has given you. and then allow yourself to fall from that precipice into a new possibility knowing that there is a landing, there will be another precipice, there will be more times to rest and to remember and all the while your movement or lack thereof is not in vain. You are moving within a vast sea of love, held by God’s everlasting mercy. You are remembered and sustained by more than your own capacities. As you leave this place into new jobs, new careers, into the unknown… rest, remember….
be still and know.