In The Silence
There is this story in the Hebrew Scriptures about the prophet Elijah encountering the unbelievable mystery of the presence of God, and it was not at all what he expected it to be.
Elijah had just had an incredible victory over the prophets of the Mesopotamian god Ba'al where he was able to call down fire from heaven as a display of Yahweh's power.
And then Jezebel, the Queen of Israel, vowed to have him hunted down and killed, so he fled into the wilderness, finally making his way all the way down to Mt. Sinai.
It's not a coincidence that Elijah traveled all the way to the holy mountain where Moses encountered God and received the Torah. He figured that's where he would find God.
So Elijah climbs to the top of Mt. Sinai, finds a cave, and is sitting there waiting for God to show up, and there's a wind that is so strong that it shatters rocks, but the Scripture says, "The Lord was not in the wind."
Then there is an earthquake, and after the earthquake, a fire, but the Scripture declares that God was not in either of those events.
It's only when there is "something like the sound of sheer silence," that Elijah finally emerges from the cave, covers his head with his cloak, and stands waiting in silence.
Then a voice comes to him, "Elijah, what are you doing here?"
A few years ago, I read a really interesting interpretation of this particular passage that has stuck with me ever since.
The interpreter claimed that one way to translate the passage is that when all of the tumult and violence had passed, Elijah was finally able to hear himself think.
And then he realized that the voice of God that was speaking to him was coming from within him.
It was God's voice, to be sure, but Elijah had traveled all the way to Sinai to hear it when all he really needed to do was to be silent and listen right where he'd been.
I know that interpretation is not at all traditional, and might seem to some like a bit of a stretch, but I rather like it. It makes more sense to me because I've experienced something similar on more than one occasion in my life.
And just like Elijah, the moments when I've heard the voice of God speaking to me followed my own silence, and a quieting of my spirit.
Author Kathleen Norris once wrote: "Silence is the best response to mystery." I love that line so much. I need to embrace the truth of it more readily, though.
My life is full of the noise of strong winds, earthquakes, and fire---far more than I'd like to admit. And it's in the midst of the tumult that I often find myself hoping beyond hope that I'll hear something, anything from God to make it better.
But it's only when I can find the space within my own soul to be quiet and wait that I am finally able to hear, and almost always the voice that I am longing to hear speaks from that space within me.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that it isn't God speaking, quite the contrary. I simply believe what Jesus said to his followers about the presence [kingdom] of God dwelling within each of us just waiting to be manifest when we are ready and willing to experience it.
It's not an easy thing to find quiet spaces in our lives, and even more difficult when the world around us is filled with nothing but the noise of conflict, division, crisis, and trial. But if we would hear God's voice in the midst of it, we must find a way to practice silence.
May you find quiet in your day today---quiet in your soul, and in your mind. May you recognize the ever-speaking voice of God within you.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.