Today we’re again reminded that God can be a surprise, appearing where and when we least expect a such a gift. (See 1 KGS 19:9A, 11-13A) The prophet Elijah is taking shelter on Horeb, “the mountain of God.” (Mountains often figure in these stories for some reason: their opportunity for solitude? the successful challenge of the climb? nearness to heaven? or…perhaps none of the above.) Elijah hears the voice of God saying, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” As we probably have heard, many loud and visually cataclysmic events followed then that he could not have missed: wind, earthquake, fire…but God was not in any of those happenings. It was “a tiny whispering sound” that Elijah heard and recognized as God’s voice.
How could he have heard God in that tiny moment? I think the only answer can be: practice. Elijah was one of the major prophets and obviously one who was practiced in listening. That was his job: being alert for God’s messages to the people. As such he was probably aware of any small shift in conditions inside and out. Maybe his emotions were stirred. Maybe he had a felt sense in his body…I don’t know.
What I do know and am more aware of as I reflect on this familiar text is that there’s a lot of noise in the world today – much of it negative and loud. It doesn’t feel to me that there is much mountain climbing to achieve solace and hear the voice of God. There are lots of zoom calls though and some are helpful. I meet with one group that I think might approximate Elijah’s ability to hear God in the midst of babble. Sometimes it’s hard not to try to fill the silence when no one is speaking. I’m learning, however, that this is the experience that I need to value the most because everyone is silently listening for the word of God to come through. And it is usually not a bombastic declaration. Most often the word is spoken in little more than a tiny whisper. And we are all trying to hear…Do you know what I mean?