From the cosmos (the Greek word for order) to our minds to beauty itself, there is order. It exists. If the given order is followed, things tends to go smoothly, if not, it usually ends up just pissing us off. Like when we see a sign that reads “Out of Order,” it upsets us because we know exactly what that means — the thing ain’t working. The actual reason it’s not working may be unclear, but the fact that it is broke is obvious. And it’s frustrating.
Looking back on 2020, the entire year has seemed broken, or at least out of order. Everyone claims to know why, but no one seems to know how to fix it. It has been, no doubt, a year many of us will never forget, although many of us would certainly like to.
But this is not about looking deeply into 2020. It’s actually about looking deeply into us. Maybe, just maybe, we have become as out of order as 2020 has been. We seem to have lost our own sense of internal order. Throughout this tumultuous year, more than anything uncertainty has reined. That’s hard to live with. As a devout Catholic who is respectful of all religious beliefs, I believe the answer to maintaining a reverent and meaningful internal order begins with us, not in the person we’re looking at.
However you look at the season upon us: Advent, the holiday season, or simply the end of the year, a proper ordering of our souls and our minds to the “higher things” as Aristotle implored is, well, in order.
Thankfully we are, as Aristotle also claimed, rational animals, and often it takes disorder for us to recognize and acknowledge order. Somehow, we just sense, “this is not how it is supposed to be.” That thought itself presupposes a natural, or proper, order. One that already exists. One that just “is.”
Recently, I was taken to Psalm 46 where I read eight words that I had read many times before, but never had they resulted in both the spiritual peace and shock they delivered to me early that morning:
Be still, and know that I am God.¹
Since then, I have thought of hardly anything else. Eight simple words. None containing more than one syllable. One concise and singular statement made up of three distinct and separate presuppositions, each in a sense needing the one prior. In short, a perfect order demonstrating our relationship to the Godhead and His perfect way for us to access it.
1. Be still…
2. And know…
3. …that I am God.
Do you know how to be still?
Sadly, many of us don’t. We live willingly in a world of constant noise — a brightly lit prison of constant chatter. Many most likely share the reality, at least in part, of one person with whom I shared my thoughts as I was writing this. After telling them about the need to find stillness and having an interior life, their first response was, “I am never still.” Let that settle in a bit — “I am never still.” Is there any more obvious sign of something disordered?
Now I know there is nothing rational or reasonable about the year we’ve just gone through. Not being able to gather with loved ones to celebrate, to worship, or simply to be together for it own sake is not at all rational—or healthy. All of this goes against our very nature as social human beings.
All the more reason to consider this scripture, as it represents an important preordained state for our soul to draw close to God. As Robert Cardinal Sarah said in his important book, The Power of Silence: “No prophet ever encountered God without withdrawing into solitude and silence… Nothing will make us discover God better than his silence inscribed in the center of our being.”²
“We need to become silence” he says. Not just quiet, silent. In other words, be still. Stillness allows us to empty ourselves, and truly, listen to God. And He will speak loudly — in silence — His voice will be unmistakable.
What does it take to enter and remain in this thing called silence? One thing — reverence. “Reverence is the presupposition for all deep knowledge,”³ according to Dietrich von Hildebrand — a man you should all put on your reading list.
This of course takes practice and deliberate action. But we were made for this. We were created with the ability to reflect, to probe into the depths of reality, and to “read from within” — which is the literal meaning of the word, Intellectus, to know.⁴
Human beings have the ability to know things. Not just knowledge of the myriad opinions, facts, and data Google delivers to us in a matter of seconds. No, we crave more. We seek understanding, insight, and wisdom.
What we ultimately seek in knowing is the truth. The truth, not a truth. We seek answers, real ones. But in doing so, we have to discern what is or what is not true, so we risk either believing or being manipulated. Which is why some of us shy away from proclaiming something as absolutely true. We are the only being that has been given the intrinsic ability to discern. It is a gift from our creator. So really, we don’t have a choice in the matters of seeking knowledge. We were made to seek and to know. To think. To consider. It only matters what we choose to think about.
St. Paul told us to “examine all things and retain what is good.” Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, told us that “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”⁵ Training our minds to know what is important is worth all the effort we can give it.
Our mind has an order to it. Think of it this way:
Intellect > Will > Act.
This is the order of the mind. “There is nothing more profound in the life of the intellect than the desire to know,” said Yves Simon, a French Catholic political philosopher. But then we have to know what to do with what we know, and why we are going to do it. This is the life of the mind. When functioning as it’s supposed to, our intellect instructs our will to choose between good and bad options, and sometimes even between good and good options, resulting in us putting our faith and beliefs into action that, once performed, becomes permanent and, hopefully, valuable to someone.
…that I am God.
How does one even begin to describe God? He is our end and the reason we exist. He is the one who holds us in existence, for he made us out of nothing. When Michelangelo carved the David out of marble and walked away from it, the marble remained. If God walked away from the “nothing” he created us out of, what would there be? Nothing. So, how do we — who were made of nothing — come to know Him in order for us to love Him? For we cannot love what we do not know.
Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” Well, I need to go no further than the book of Job, Chapter 38 to find the awesome fear of God and appreciate who He is. After Job’s questioning of God had come to an end, and after the rebukes of Job’s friends were finished, God then decides to speak directly to Job:
1. Then God answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2. “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?
3. “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
5. “Who determined its measurements — surely you know!⁶
Ouch! Get your Bible and read the whole thing. It’s actually quite terrifying, but somehow reassuring that this is the God who holds us in being.
Now for a vivid and loving understanding of exactly who God is, I rest on a beautiful passage from St. Athanasius as he describes the reason Jesus had to come:
“The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men… Thus, He ensured that men should recognize Him in the part who could not do so in the whole, and that those who could not lift their eyes to His unseen power might recognize and behold Him in the likeness of themselves. For, being men, they would naturally learn to know His Father more quickly and directly by means of a body that corresponded to their own and by Divine works done through it; for by comparing His works with their own they would judge His not to be human but Divine.”⁷
Yes, Jesus came to us to bring us salvation through His death and resurrection, but before that He showed those He walked among, the Father. And He also showed us. We know Him through the words of the Apostles, the Church fathers, many saints through the ages, and through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
God operates in silence, in us; He builds our knowledge, through love; and He shows us Himself, which needs no human description — for that is to bring Him down to us. He did that already. We must ask Him to enable us to lift our understanding to Him.
He gave us a perfect order in which to begin.
Be still, and know that I am God.
 Psalm 46:10
 The Power of Silence, Robert Cardinal Sarah,©2017 Ignatius Press
 The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand, ©2017 Hildebrand Press
 The Light of Christ, Thomas Joseph White, OP ©2017 CUA Press
 A Guide for the Perplexed, E.F. Schumaker, ©1977 Harper & Row
 The Book of Job 38:1–5, English Standard Version, Catholic Edition
 On the Incarnation, St. Anthanasius (AD 373), ©1944 Centenary Press