Elijah was smug, very smug. His God kicked their god’s butt. They competed over whose god was more powerful, whose god could burn better. They competed over who had better divine connections. The God of Elijah’s purging fire poured down eclipsing the competition’s feeble sparklers. Elijah was proud, murderously proud. As a part of his victory dance; he killed the competition, the 450 priests of Baal. And then Elijah was in trouble, great trouble. Queen Jezebel commanded he be killed. Elijah fled to hide in a cave.
God was trying to get through to him. A messenger of God told Elijah to stand on the side of the mountain for God would be coming by. A series of theophanies occurred. First a great wind storm, but Elijah couldn’t feel God in the winds. Then the earth shook, but Elijah couldn’t feel God in the quake. Then fire, but Elijah couldn’t see God in the flames. And then the drama settled down. Elijah heard God in the sheer silence.
I must confess, I am not great at silence. I can do it. I actually love it, but I am not disciplined enough in it. I’m not great at silence, so when Mira tells me of her regular 48 hour silent retreats, I get both jealous and defensive. So sure, you are more holy than I am because you go sit by yourself for 48 hours reading holy books. Yeah, you’re more spiritual because you enjoy beautiful wooded places and watch ducks swimming on ponds, and listen to babbling brooks, and lay back silently watching the stars’ slowly traipsing, and you pray with Buddhist bowls, and eat warm, whole wheat breads from monk’s ovens covered with hand churned butter and homemade raspberry jam while sitting silently with them. Yeah, sure, Mira you’re more spiritual because you meet weekly with a spiritual director and you get up early to pray in your special room, and you play tennis.
Well, you don’t preach every week, you don’t get to do the committee work, I do. You don’t get to do what I get to do -- you know, loving people professionally, and being loved by them. Hah, Mira, you don’t get to teach confirmation. Now, I am not competitive. I would never do to Mira what Elijah did to the Baal prophets. I love Mira.
If Mira was here with us, she would say something deep and wide and wise. Mira might remind me that while Elijah did not perceive God in the winds, the name for the Holy Spirit is wind in Hebrew. Wind could be considered a metaphor for work. The tasks of our days indeed seem like breezes and even tornados in our lives. She would tell me that my email, my phone calls, my pastoral visits, my planning and studying are indeed times to experience God. She would tell you that too. That God is in your work, your work at work, your work at home.
While Elijah did not perceive God in the earthquake, Mira would remind me that God was present in the quakes after Jesus’ death. She would draw a connection between earthquakes and the times in our lives when we are not in control. She would say that God is indeed present to us when the world quakes around us, when illness seems inescapable, when the bills seem insurmountable, when the car crashes before us on 270, and when we feel powerless to create peace in our bodies, at home in the Middle East, in Syria, in Anacostia. God is in the shakes.
And while Elijah did not perceive God in the mountain fire, Mira would recall God speaking to Moses in a burning bush, leading the people out of Egypt as burning pillar. Fire can be a metaphor for change. Pentecost flames danced on the early church’s heads signing their new community. She would share that God is present to me, to us in both the delightful changes in our lives: birth, first walk, first talk, baptism, getting our driver’s license, first job, first lover, joining churches, gaining same-sex marriage and God is with us in the not-so-delightful changes: adult responsibility, a job loss, arthritis, empty nesting, losing parents, and losing friends. God is in the changes.
And then Mira, with a bit of smugness, would say, “And Scott don’t forget that the winds of work will rush. And the quakes of anxiety will come. And the fires of change will flare. And God is within all of them. But there is another way to hear God. There is another way to be bound to the universe. There is another way and it is usually not forced on us. It is a way we have to choose. It is a way that needs our discipline.” Sheer Sabbath silence is the way.
We might go on to talk about the ways to choose silence: blocking time each day to sit in silence – maybe starting with 10 minutes and seeing if it can grow to 30 maybe 60; finding a green space, a tree, a grassy spot, a peace lily; being intentional grasping rich, restorative moments of deep refreshing silence; resisting the TV or NPR or the Post. And she would encourage me to again find a spiritual director who will ask me about my love life with God, to plan at least to spend ½ day a month in silence, and a weekend a year. She will encourage me to start baking again and to knead the dough in silence, maybe even to watch the yeast rise. Go for quiet walks. Pray silently before meals. Pet the cats.
Elijah heard God in silence. Maybe he didn’t feel God in wind for he overlooked God in work. Maybe he didn’t feel God in earthquake because he couldn’t bear helplessness long enough to realize God’s peace in it. Maybe he didn’t feel God in fire, for he hated change. By God’s grace, Elijah’s gales calmed, grounds settled, ignitions quenched, he got God in the deep, refreshing, silence.
Jesus sabbathed often separating himself from his work to go to quiet places to be restored and to pray. Jesus invites us to join him, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” I encourage you this Lent, to explore ways of inviting silence into your lives.
It’s not easy. Even as I thought about the scripture for today, I struggled to choose silence. Friday afternoon, Anthony and I went to Toys R Us to get playdough for confirmation and a little mouse for the Children’s Experience. I felt the earth quake while in the store. It was not a real quake, but real anxiety rose up in me. I had pulled out my smart phone to check my email and no one had emailed. What? I usually get something every couple of minutes. Where was the worship bulletin Devin was going to email? My little life quaked with self-generated tremors. As I paced the aisles looking for a mouse, I couldn’t stop checking to see if the emails had come in. After finding the play dough and the mouse, I was desperate to get home to check email.
But Anthony wasn’t ready, he wanted to look at the Star Wars toys. As I got frustrated and selfish, I heard Jesus say, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Maybe silence can even be found in a toy store. I put the phone away dousing its bluster and stood silently seeking Chewbacca.
Let’s learn together how to seek quiet Sabbath moments, beautiful blooming moments like the lily.
Consider the lilies of the field, the blue banks of camas
opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down and be washed by that beauty abate
if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs for flour,
how the settlers’ hogs uprooted them,
grunting in gleeful oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you — what of your rushed and useful life?
Imagine setting it all down —
papers, plans, appointments, everything — leaving only a note:
"Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I’m through with blooming."
~ Lynn Ungar ~