In a culture bent on movement, it’s important to remember the greatness of stillness.
Oftentimes when I’m outside using the grill or watching the children play, I look up at the sky. There are usually a few red-tailed hawks circling in the air, floating on thermals. With their wings stretched wide, they careen through the atmosphere like tiny boats, flapping only on occasion, because stillness is sufficient for them.
On one evening, a group of three hawks was weaving in and out of each other’s paths: drawing circles within circles. The air was clear, the sky filled with great, puffy clouds letting through hints of blue as they drifted overhead. And then one of the hawks stopped, staying in place. I stared for a few moments, trying to figure out if my eyes were tricking me. They weren’t. It had caught a thermal that was holding it in one small space, lifting the bird without pushing it in one direction or another. Effortlessly, it held that still pose in the clouds for a few minutes. The picture was . . . great, and beautiful. I couldn’t stop staring.
The experience immediately brought to mind Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Why does God command us to be still? There are many reasons, I think. But one of them, rooted in the psalmist’s words, is that we will find refuge in stillness, for in stillness we imbibe the knowledge of God. Stillness, you see, gives us a single perspective for a time. It allows us to focus and meditate on who we are in the context of who God is. And God has a simple message for us when we focus on him: he will be exalted.
On that summer evening, I was drawn into the exaltation, the creaturely glory, of a red-tailed hawk. His stillness let me see him in all of his God-given greatness. But such exaltation is a shadow of the exaltation of God himself, who hemmed the hawk with feathers, who set the clouds scudding in the atmosphere above my head, who controlled the light wind with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). And the exaltation of this God brings great comfort, for it shows that beauty and grace and power (all of which reflect God’s character) will win the day.
The greatness of stillness, then, lies in its revelation of divine exaltation. The God of the world is highest. And he bids us to commune with him in stillness.