A sound of sheer silence.” – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In my years of offering silent directed retreats to women and men, I have often invited them to pray with today’s first reading from the First Book of Kings, the account of Elijah’s encounter with God on Horeb, “the mountain of God”.
The prophet has been promised that the Lord is about to pass by. Like Elijah, the person on retreat is in the privileged stance of being hopeful and expectant, keeping their eyes, ears and hearts open and receptive to God’s presence.
A natural question is about how we expect God to appear to us. My experience is that God usually surprises us. God will not announce God-self and draw arrows and offer bright lights to say, look here. It is me, God. We have to discern. We must ponder the prayer experience in the context of life and the situation of our culture.
The writer of 1 Kings knows how important it is to remind us that God will usually come to us in surprising ways.
“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”
Where is God? In “a sound of sheer silence.” Other scripture translations use other language to say the same thing. One of my favourites refers to a “still small voice.”
We often make the mistake of assuming that God’s presence will be announced or accompanied by bright lights and loud music. That is not how most of us experience the revelation of God. It may happen in quiet and unassuming ways.
We have been working on something or praying over some aspect of our lives. And then the “Aha!” moment quietly presents itself. The way I often describe it is by using a verse from Luke’s Canticle of Zechariah: the dawn from on high shall break upon us. Think of the gently unfolding nature of the dawn.
The hope for the retreatant is that they will be so attentive to what is happening in their prayer and surroundings that they will open their eyes and heart and have an “Aha” moment, to recognize the Lord in their midst.
The excerpt from 1 Kings is reminiscent of a line from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” It is in being stilled and peaceful so that we are free of our distractions. A fairly common way of meditating on the verse from Psalm 46 is by using it as a mantra, eventually reducing it to the simple “God.”
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Let’s take a few minutes in these August days to ponder the experience of Elijah. That can happen at the beach, in our backyard, on our balcony or on the subway journey to work.