“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” I Kings 19:11b-12 (RSV)
This passage is found in the story of God’s encounter with the prophet Elijah. Because I grew up with the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, this is the version that is most familiar to me. However, the version we usually use at NUCC, the one in our sanctuary pews, is the New Revised Standard Version in which the final words of verse 12 are, “and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” The New International Version says, “And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” The New American Standard Bible translates it, “and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.” Variations like this always intrigue me and suggest that it’s difficult to translate into English what is conveyed by the original Hebrew text.
But in this case, I find it helpful to put the images together, as if they are different facets of a prism: a still small voice, a gentle whisper, a gentle blowing, a sound of sheer silence. This is how God spoke to Elijah. I think it’s often how God speaks to us.
Many of us have written and spoken about the challenges, uncertainty, fear, and even despair that are part of living through the global pandemic of COVID-19. Today I want to reflect on a different aspect of these times. It is loud. No matter the TV channel or radio station, if we turn on the news, we’re bombarded by voices telling us what is happening and what people think of what’s happening—over and over again. I don’t know what to think. If we track the virus, we hear reports about increased cases, projected trends, and heated debates about how to save lives and save the economy, too. I’m not sure what to do. In the stories of those who return to the streets day after day to protest violence and racism, we hear anger and anguish, shouting and sobbing. My heart breaks from the pain. Even my computer is noisy, alerting me about incoming emails, texts, and “breaking news.” I feel annoyed. In SWFL during the rainy season, we hear pouring rain and roaring thunder. I have to plan when to go outside. The world is loud in so many ways, some trivial and some profound.
To open myself to hear God speaking to me in the sound of sheer silence or a gentle whisper, I have to choose to tune out the noise. I have to turn off the television and look away from my computer. I have to quiet the world around me and also the thoughts racing within my mind. I have to be still and be quiet. I have to offer to God the prayers of my heart, listening rather than speaking. This is not easy for me to do. But I know that it is what I need to do. I invite you to join me. Perhaps in the silence, each of us will hear the still small voice of God whispering to us. I love you. I am with you. I will guide you. I will sustain you. Always.
Rev. Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing
Listening for God.
God who is the Word Incarnate in Jesus Christ, calm our hearts. Quiet our minds. Help us to hear your Word for this day. Empower us to be your Love Incarnate for others, that they might know you through us. Amen.