Elijah is scared. Running for his life, feeling abandoned and all alone in his desire to make things right, he escapes from vengeful rulers and heads into the wilderness. There, he sits under a tree and says “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. A vision has come to me, softly creeping, it left its seeds while I was sleeping. This vision of death and destruction and despair was planted in my brain and it still remains.”
Elijah’s given up. He doesn’t believe that the world can change; he doesn’t believe that he can do anything to save it. Everyone has turned their backs on God and on each other…and now they’re coming for him.
Then this angel shows up and says “get up and eat.” And the daily bread that he needs is provided for him. So he eats and he drinks. Then he sinks back into his hopelessness.
But the angel doesn’t give up on Elijah. Again “get up and eat, you have a long way to go.” So he does. He eats a little more. And it helps. He regains a bit of his courage and sets out on the next, long leg of his journey. The restless dreams continue and he walks alone, maybe through some narrow streets of cobblestone. Maybe he encounters some halos of light from a fire-lit street lamp as he faces the cold and damp. On he goes, seeking a holy place on Mount Horeb.
When he finally reaches a cave on that mountain a voice comes to him. Maybe this is what he is waiting for, answers to all of his problems. But instead of offering answers the voice asks a question: What are you doing here, Elijah? The prophet pleads his case: I’ve tried to do my best for you God but the people don’t listen. They destroy everything you stand for, and now they’re trying to kill me too. I’ve said to them “Hear my words that I might teach you; Take my arms that I might reach you” But my words, like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silence.
In response, the voice calls Elijah’s attention to the presence of God in his troubled life, “Pay attention, For the Lord is about to pass by.” There were mighty acts of nature; Elijah’s eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light that split the night. But God wasn’t in the whirlwind, or the earthquake, or the fire.
God was in the silence. It was the sound of silence, not the cacophony of chaos that called Elijah’s attention to God. It was the sound of silence, not the noise of fear that gave Elijah focus. It was the sound of silence, not the sounds of power that called Elijah to action.
Elijah was able to get past his despair, work through his worry, and listen for God’s voice because finally, somehow, he was able to ignore the distractions and focus on God.
That’s not always easy. In fact, it usually feels like it’s always difficult.
We have so many distractions.
We have neon gods that we’ve made, to whom we bow and pray: Our cell phones and Facebooks and Instagrams and Twitters that seek our attention with minute by minute updates and notifications.
And we have our calendars that fill with work meetings and school meetings and play dates and family and friends and organizations pulling us in so many different directions.
There are the headlines that cause headaches and the entertainment that promises an escape.
But the distractions come not only from our smart phones and our schedules and our social medias.
I imagine that, at times, we’ve all found ourselves in the wilderness of despair just like Elijah; Far from hope, filled with fear, worried about the future, afraid that we’re all alone.
Bu God is always there, trying to get us to notice.
If we pay attention, we’ll see that God is the one telling us to take care of ourselves when life gets too hectic. Telling us to sit under a tree, eat a good meal, rest.
Because the chaos and the noise of the world can be too much. It can lead to more fear and more despair, a never ending downward spiral that causes us to feel isolated from others and isolated from God.
The distractions of the world can keep us away from God but they can also fool us into believing that they – the distractions themselves – are God.
But God voice isn’t in the whirlwind of fear-mongering news casts. God’s voice isn’t in the earthquakes of busyness. God’s voice isn’t in the fire of Facebook arguments or the whirlwind of 140 character tweets claiming to have all the answers..
God is in the meals that we eat together. God is in the love that we share. God is in the company that we find in unexpected places.
It’s only when we seek out a Sabbath peace for our soul that God’s voice can be heard in the sound of silence.
If we expect to hear a Divine voice from flawed leaders, we’ll be disappointed.
If we expect to hear Holy texts in the talking heads of the 24 hour news cycle, we’ll miss the mark.
If we expect to hear the call of prophets from the corrupt powers and principalities, we’ll never hear God.
Elijah and the prophets who followed him – up to and including Jesus – direct our attention away from the rich and powerful and point us towards the oppressed and the outcasts.
They tell us where to find God – not in castles and towers but on the edges of society.
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.
Elijah was scared. We are too.
But if we listen to the whispers in the sound of silence, we’ll hear the Holy voice saying to us “Be not afraid.”
These Bible stories from thousands of years ago remind us that this world has seen suffering before, it’s seen corruption before, it’s seen hatred and division and oppression and violence and fear before.
But the story goes on. God’s story told through the prophets and revealed in Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom is coming – on earth as in heaven.
No matter how flawed we humans are, no matter how hard it seems we are trying to fail and stray from God, we are always given another chance. And another. And another.
The gentle whisper that speaks to us in the silence says “don’t be afraid.” But it also says “Get up and go.” The still small voice calling to our souls reminds us that we are called to do the work – God’s work. Even when all around us seems lost, when it feel like everyone else has broken covenants and given up on trying to do what’s right, we are called to get up and go and live a life of radical love and extravagant inclusion. A life that calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies, to care for the sick and hungry, to stand up for the outcasts and oppressed.
God’s voice is calling to you. Give yourself a chance to listen. Set time aside this week to spend time alone. Put the distractions away for a while and be with the Holy One. Hear the voice of God so tender, as the Spirit brings you new life. Let God open doors to hopeful life and sustain you with a love that will not cease.
What will you hear in the sound of silence?