“After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:12-13).
In one of the most famous stories from our own Carmelite tradition, the prophet Elijah, in his search for God, looks for Him in a variety of natural phenomenon. He literally listens to silence. What a challenge then, and never the less for us, in this modern buzzing world. Listen to silence? How is that even possible? Just last month in the July 19 issue of the New York Times an article ran entitled, “New York Becomes the City That Never Shuts Up.”
For me it takes the bravery of Peter walking on water in a storm to listen to silence. I can hear the voice of my mother telling me to “Stop” — not in a mother’s usual way of silencing a troublesome child, but as an invitation. Stop. Listening to yourself, your body and God is an invitation that some of my non-Christian friends have helped me take up.
Many of my friends are interested in the new/old craze of transcendental meditation. I admit to a little eye rolling, but I respond to their consistent, often daily, ritual of entering into a deep silence. It mirrors our Savior’s practice of separating himself from the crowds and his closest friends: “He went up on the mountain by himself to pray,” the Gospel tells us. This need to stop, to fill oneself spiritually, is not a passive thing, it isn’t about rest. Listening to silence is a lot of work—that’s why it is so hard! Yet, I think there are moments in life when it seems a little easier and, quite simply, necessary to survive.
Back to our Carmelite father, Elijah. The ancient narrator describes Elijah looking for God in the natural phenomenon of strong winds, an earthquake and fire. Having survived a hurricane, I am in no rush to experience any other type of strong meteorological wonder, but I do think listening to ourselves and our Lord in silence comes a little easier after the strong winds of bad influences hit us, or the earthquake of financial devastation, or the fire of grief.
I’ll be seeing you,