• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Contemplation, Wonder, Mystery


“Be Still and Know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).


Moses walked into the darkness which hung over the mountain. In the cloud of mystery, he met God. He was still, and in that stillness, knew God.


Today, we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God is one and three; three in one. It baffles human reason. God’s very essence, Trinity, is incomprehensible to us. What does this mean to us in our lives? It means our only proper relationship with God is a relationship on our knees. We can never trap God in a corner. We can never pin him down. We can only fall flat on our faces in adoration and wonder, and this is our job here on earth.


Jesus Christ told us to baptize in the Name of the Trinity.


“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:18-20).


The doorway into Christianity is marked with Trinity. The message that God is one nature and three persons is the entry point, the crux, the center of our salvation. What do you suppose this means?


I am always surprised when people tell me they cannot accept this doctrine. “It doesn’t make sense,” is their claim. Yet, can we really expect God to fit into our human way of thinking? Are we such megalomaniacs that we believe God should conform to the pea size of our brains? We believe God is Trinity not because we figured it out, but because God revealed Himself to us as Trinity, and this changes everything.


God as Trinity is the most dynamic and exciting of all doctrines. If we had a nice, simple explanation of God, then we would be bored. We could wrap him up in a little box, stuff him in our pockets, and take him out every once in a blue moon. Instead, God’s nature baffles us. It is a challenge. We can reject it, and live in a dull and humdrum world. Or we can accept the challenge and plunge into a new life.


It is like a relationship on earth. When a man falls in love with a woman, he knows that he will never understand her. The difference between the genders is a mystery that has baffled humankind since the garden of eden. Yet, that difference itself, is what makes the relationship so beautiful. When you look with love into someone’s eyes, you get a glimpse into the eternity in a soul, and so a relationship becomes an adventure. This is magnified infinitely in our relationship with God.


God as Trinity means that God is in the dark cloud into which Moses boldly stepped. It means we have to stretch out of our comfort zone, reach out of our skin, into something deep and beautiful beyond words.


There is a challenge in Psalm 46:10: “Be Still and Know that I am God.” Most of us know this passage because it offers us comfort. It is a salve when we are stressed; a reminder to calm down and breathe. God is in control. Yet, the verse has another side to it. The verse comes in the middle of a Psalm of turmoil and chaos.


“The earth gives way… the mountains are moved into the heart of the sea…its waters roar and foam…The nations rage, the kingdoms totter.”


The verse directly before Psalm 46:10 depicts God grappling with the nations, breaking bows, shattering spears, and burning chariots with fire. Everything is topsy-turvey. Everything in our lives is crumbling. The world is falling apart.


Then the psalm wraps up: “Be still and know that I am God.” “Be still,” ‘Har-pū’ in Hebrew, derives from the word, ‘Raphah,’ which has a wealth of meaning. It can translate as: “Cease, desist, relax, release, drop, and sink.” To “be still and know God” is as intense as Christ’s words: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). “Be Still” does not mean, “just be cool…don’t worry about anything.” “Be Still” means: cut yourself off from the world. Break off from the noise, the chaos, the din of vanity and meaninglessness. The world roars and shakes, but we must detach and drop into God.


The second clause in Psalm 46:10 gives us the next step. “Know that I am God.” This is an action verb. ‘Yâda’ in Hebrew: Strain yourself to encounter, abandon yourself in love, plunge into and become one. This is the very implication in the name of God the Trinity. We cannot understand. We can and must let go and dive into.


What should our relationship with God look like? It cannot ever become stale, trite, sentimental, or cozy. Religion must never become any of these things. In his book, Phantastes, the Scottish poet, George Macdonald described a true relationship with God. A boulder juts out over a sea, raging and storming. On that boulder stands the protagonist, Anodas, who, looking out into the abyss proclaims:


“I stood one moment and gazed into the heaving abyss beneath me; then plunged headlong into the mounting wave below…A blessing, like the kiss of a mother, seemed to alight on my soul; a calm, deeper than that which accompanies a hope deferred, bathed my spirit. I sank far into the waters, and sought not to return.”


What does it mean to worship the Trinity? What does it mean to “Be Still and know God”? It is to dive into the sea like this bold man in the fairytale, to live a life of wonder and adoration.


We can bring all this down to the Mass. This is why our worship is so solemn and reverent. This is why we should only whisper in the sanctuary, why we should go out of our way not to distract others, but to pray as attentively and quietly as possible. The sanctity of our worship is a mirror of the state of our soul. This is why authentic Christian worship is shrowded in so much poetic language, august robes, and thick insense. The first thing God told Moses when he appeared in the burning bush was: “Remove your shoes from your feet because the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). Here, in the presence of the awesome God, we have to lay aside all worldliness, and plunge into worship.


Peter Kwasniewski is an author who writes about historical Christian worship. He explains:


“Traditional liturgy is like a cloud in which God dwells, and unto which Moses dares to approach. There is no sense of a meeting with an agenda, conducted by company managers, characterized by a lot of reading of texts and sharing out of tasks. We lie prostrate on holy ground before the burning bush of divine self-revelation.”


Kwasniewski goes on to explain the mystery of the Mass, why the priest’s back is turned, why some prayers are silent, and everything is just out of your reach:


“MYSTERY…God’s dramatic self-disclosure to us…is a mystery in the highest sense of the term: it is the revelation of a Reality that is utterly intelligible yet always ineluctable, ever luminous yet blinding in its luminosity. It is fitting that the liturgical celebrations that bring us into contact with our very God should bear the stamp of His eternal and infinite mysteriousness, His marvelous transcendence, His overwhelming holiness, His disarming intimacy, His gentle yet penetrating silence.”


God is Trinity. This is our invitation to marvel. While worshipping at Mass, when we wake up in the morning, when we look up at the sky, or a bird, or a tree, in everything that we do, we need to cultivate the habit of wondering at God. This is our purpose on earth, and the life to which God has invited us.


“Be Still and Know God.”




Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309

FatherKavanaugh@gmail.com

940.692.3392

facebook-3-logo-png-transparent.png