Messages of Hope

In the silence

Published / by Sandy

September is the time to celebrate the Season of Creation, and the 9.30am service is focussing on water, wind, earth and fire. Sunday 13th was ‘wind and breath’ and the Bible reading was 1 Kings 19:11-12.

The narrative takes place at Mt Horeb, ‘the mountain of God’, a place closely associated with the presence of God. It was to this place that the prophet Elijah had retreated, to hide in a cave – tired, depressed, despondent, overwhelmed, alone, uncertain, discouraged. That was then, this is now. We may identify with many of those feelings in 2020, where the dominant dominant narrative is the ongoing pandemic, and the associated experience of scarcity, fear, greed, and violence. In response, many of us will have experienced the emotions of tiredness, depression, despondency, uncertainty, loneliness, and discouragement. When we see the reality of our collective life (the virus, the economic meltdown, the crisis of climate, the loss of confidence in democratic institutions), we no doubt feel overwhelmed and helpless, because the issues are so big, and there is low confidence in the capacity of leaders to address them.

Elijah’s outlook from high up, in the cave, was breathtaking. He could look out over the vast desert, the rough and stony plain devoid of plants, the great mountain walls of red granite, the peaks reaching up into the blue sky, the magnificence of the night sky. The cave to which Elijah retreated was surrounded and protected by granite cliffs. And there was silence. Sheer silence. You may have been in such a place of silence and experienced awe.

The Hebrew Scriptures say that God told Elijah to stand on the mountain, for God was about to pass by. How would Elijah recognise God? Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but God was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire.

God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. God is Spirit, known in the eye of the storm, where there is silence – even while the storm rages on the outer. God is to be found in the still small voice, in the sound of gentle stillness, in the whisper to Elijah’s soul. God spoke to him, to tell him to go home for there was more God wanted him to do. That is what you do after a tragedy or challenging times. You survive it and go on living, and you look for ways to put your life together again.

How do we recognise the presence of God? How do we make space and time to do so? Many people recognise the presence of God in the beauty of nature. Indeed, during COVID-19, getting out for walks in the parks, at the beach or even smelling the roses on a walk around the block has been life giving, promoting resilience and positivity. Everybody needs beauty, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. Nature inspires awe, and the measurable impact of awe in nature is resilience, the capacity to face and deal skillfully with the difficulties of life.

Elijah was to learn that God would be revealed not in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary. God is in the quiet, in the gentle influences which are ever around us, without any visible or audible signs of God’s presence. So much in nature that is life-giving happens in silence. And so we seek the gentleness and silence as a means to be present with God. It is the practice of sacramental living.

Ironically, time and silence are two things that many people have had during this COVID19 time of trial and yet the gift of time and silence has for many people been held captive by fear, anxiety and loneliness.

The psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 61:1)  “Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?” (Lawrence Durrell). Where some find only silence, absence and emptiness, others sense the presence of God. Love is found in the eye of the storm.

These lines from Paul are words to remember when storms rage: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (fires, storms, earthquakes) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.38).

May it be so. Amen.

(adapted from a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 13th September 2020)