When I heard the first reading at Mass today, I felt a small smile spread across my face. It was the reading where Elijah is hiding in a cave waiting for a word from the Lord. He expects to find him in the strong and crushing wind, in the earthquake that shakes the ground beneath his feet, in the fire that follows. This is God, after all. Surely He will show up in some magnificent and awesome way. And yet, where does Elijah eventually find God? In a “tiny whispering sound” that makes him hide his face. I love this image, I think because I can find myself in Elijah’s story and because of the fact that the God of all creation is powerful enough to show up in a whisper. He needs no light show or thunder claps.
Clearly I’m not a prophet, so what makes me feel a kinship with Elijah? It’s the fact that I, too, am expecting God to show up in my life in some over-the-top and obvious way. Send me a sign, I often challenge, when I am doubting or in need or in a dark spiritual place. But what sign am I expecting? An actual voice from the heavens? A vision? A flood of epic proportions? Rainbows arching over my house? I hate to say it, but, in a figurative sort of way, yes, that’s exactly what I’m expecting. Come on, God, show me the money. Unlike Elijah, I do not know of any caves where I can hide, and I never seem to sit still or stay silent long enough to catch the “tiny whispering sound” that just might come rushing through my soul if it weren’t so clogged up with anxiety and fear and disappointment and doubt. I’m guessing that the whisper in my life ends up ricocheting off all the other stressed-out vibes I’ve got going on. I’m constantly talking to God, or, more accurately, talking at God, but I rarely give Him a chance to get a whisper in edgewise.
So how do I — or any of us for that matter — make a space for the tiny whispering sound of God when our lives are so busy and so rushed and so filled with the noise of our culture and our world? My initial reaction is to say, Retreat! As in spiritual retreat, not the run away kind of retreat, although that might be another option. But if we can only make a quiet space for God when we are in the silence of a retreat house, what happens every other day of our lives when we’re home or at work or in the grocery store, wondering what life is all about but unable to still our souls long enough to hear the answer above the din of the car radio or the telephone?
I struggle with this concept all the time, which you may have noticed if you read this blog with regularity. You can bet that every few weeks or so you will get a message from the angst-ridden side of Not Strictly Spiritual, the side that is constantly trying to find a spiritual place amid the busyness of the world. I tip my hat to those who manage to live in the world and still maintain that spiritual center that makes them radiate God’s love to everyone around them. I’m not sure what I’m radiating, but I’m guessing it’s less like joy and more like something they might dredge up from the nearby Hudson River.
I’m actually considering a brief silent retreat early next month, although it’s very iffy at this point. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing for me at this moment in my life. I think I’ll sit back and wait for a sign. Let the thunder claps commence!