One thing that is especially dangerous to the solitude required for real prayer is what a psalm describes as “storms of destruction.” The context of Psalm 57 is David hiding from Saul in a cave. Saul was given to irrational fits of rage, especially because his jealousy toward David. David had to flee for his life in the face of Saul’s instability: “In the shelter of your wings I take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
The context of Psalm 57 suggests the storm of destruction is not so much a natural disaster as much as it is the violent irrationality of someone close to us. It is so easy to allow irrational aggression to stir up all kinds of hostility in us. This is a trap which, once sprung, robs the soul of the freedom to pray.
Anyone who has struggled not to lash out in anger when irrationally attacked by someone knows that such self-mastery requires special assistance from God. Sometimes there is just no reasoning with someone who is intent on harming us. The humiliating word or scornful look, when we are unsuspecting, brutally strikes to the core. In the heat of such battles, we do not always know how to be merciful. It seems like anything we try to do in some circumstances will betray God’s mercy. So we must withdraw into the “shelter” of God’s “wings.”
Biblically “wings” — whether of eagles, angels or God — are a metaphor for power. Just as a bird soars over the earth, the power of God is over this world including all the events and people He allows into our lives. In the face of all kinds of violence — spiritual, emotional, verbal and also, as in David’s case, physical — it is possible to find rest in God. Divine power is the best shield against every form of malice. But we must seek this, and above all trust in Him.
If we are being tested and our weakness is beginning to show, it is only because He desires to show forth his loving power. God’s power hides us in the shelter of true solitude and a stronghold of spiritual silence, even in the midst of difficult trials and persecution. How He does this in each set of circumstances is always different. Yet, He never fails to deliver from those storms of destruction anyone who clings to Him.
Withdrawing into solitude, seeking places where time can be spent in silence, is something that we must do, not only physically, but especially spiritually, by begging the Lord for his protection and trusting in his power to establish us in peace. He is the one who makes the kind of peaceful stillness in which a profound encounter with Him can take place. Prayer is less distracted and more focused when both the ears of our body and the ears of our heart are sheltered in His peaceful stillness. Such God-given liberation from noise, especially violent noise, helps prayer mature and become fully human. In the sacred silence of God’s own peace, the soul begins to discover the most beautiful and subtle canticles of Divine Love.
– from Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer by Anthony Lilles (Ch. Six: Prayer as Spiritual Combat, pp. 117-118)