"Our Hope and Strength"
Written by the Right Reverend Henry N. Parsley, Jr.,
Visiting Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina
God is our hope and strength,
a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
The psalms are some of the Bible’s most valuable literature. They plumb the depths of the human spirit and the all too real ups and downs of mortal life. They speak with profound honesty of struggle, lamentation, hope, darkness, and light, always with an abiding trust in God’s loving kindness.
The 46th Psalm speaks to me especially as we navigate the uncharted waters of the novel coronavirus. It describes the perilous times that we must sometimes endure, and it affirms a living faith that is ever ancient and ever new. The psalmist believes that God is not just remote in the heavenly realm but “very present,” especially when the going is tough. Its promise is not that God will always remove trouble from us. Its promise is that God will always be with us in it, giving us the courage and hope to persevere.
"Therefore,” the psalmist goes on, “we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea.” This means, as we say in the coastal south, “come hell or high water.” We are getting a strong dose of that at the moment.
After years of wrestling, I have come to believe that the only real medicine for fear is faith—the kind of faith that means trusting in God and in a power beyond ourselves that is given. Faith doesn’t miraculously make fear go away. It is what holds us in the midst of it, holding us in the confidence that God is mysteriously present and doing for us “better things than we can desire or pray for,” as our Prayer Book petition puts it.
Henri Nouwen once compared faith to the art of trapeze in the circus. He learned that when the trapeze artist lets go of one bar and flies through the empty air, she cannot catch the person swinging toward her on the other bar. She has to let the catcher catch her. Trusting God is like that, Nouwen said. As we step out in faith, into the empty air, we have to let God catch us. And he said, “God has good hands.”
The 46th Psalm concludes:
Be still then, and know that I am God.
The God of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
“Be still”— that is the spiritual way echoed across the scriptures and the lives of the saints. Stillness is the seedbed of faith. It comes when we sit in intentional silence, measure our breath, and quiet our hearts. Here is where we can touch what T.S. Eliot called the “stillpoint of the turning world.” It’s where we realize that God is really present in the silence and that our lives are enfolded in holy love.
In such stillness, where faith is reborn, we are given the ability to get up and do what has to be done, to live beyond our fear. Because God is the catcher. Because God is working his purpose out for the world, “as year succeeds to year.” Because God has given us the wisdom and gumption to navigate the storms of life.
It has been said that the essence of the Biblical faith is the inability to ever stop hoping. Because God is our hope and strength. Where there is hope there is life. As another psalm says, “Weeping may spend the night; but joy comes in the morning.” The going is tough, but in time we will get though the novel coronavirus crisis. God has given us the intellect and industry to solve the science of it, the strength to weather the storm, and the love to take care of one another as we journey forward.
Jesus affirmed the faith of the psalmist when he said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Let that good cheer be among us, in spite of it all.
Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr.
During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.