It feels like the world is just getting louder and louder. So, seriously, when I want “a word from the Lord,” I want it loud and clear. The story of Elijah reminds us that what we want and what we’re going to get may very well be two different things.
(For the full audio, click here.)
In 1 Kings 19:1-15a, the people have turned to pagan idols, most of the prophets of Yahweh have been killed, Elijah has royally pissed off Queen Jezebel, and he is fleeing for his life. Next,we find Elijah hiding in a cave on Mt. Horeb (where the prophets always encounter God), and personally, I think Elijah is ready to turn in his resignation and retire. Then God tells him (my paraphrase) “Hey, Elijah, go stand on the mountain because I’m about to pass by!” And just as he’s about to step out of the cave a whirlwind hits, then an earthquake and then fire. Is God just showing off? Thankfully Elijah hadn’t made it outside yet! Well, after all the commotion dies down, Elijah hears God whisper, “Go back the way you came.” Sigh.
The whole story is a little too far-fetched to take literally, so, what’s the metaphor? What’s the message? And, by the way, how did Elijah know that God wasn’t in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the fire?
Here’s my take on it… perhaps the world is like the whirlwind and the earthquake and the fire. Perhaps the typical state of affairs in life is chaos and confusion, loud noise and distraction, fires to put out and crises to avoid. God doesn’t even try to compete with all of these things by being louder, and Elijah seems to know deep within what is God and what isn’t. As a prophet, I suppose, Elijah has trained his heart to know when the Divine has a message. Instead of rushing out into the chaos, Elijah waits in anticipation and listens intently for the voice God, and so the faint whisper isn’t lost to him. But how many times is it lost to us?
Many people have become very uncomfortable in silence, uncomfortable stopping and waiting and listening. Noise and busyness cover up our emotions and our fears, they distract us from ourselves and that still small voice that emanates from within. We use our own personal whirlwinds, and those of society, to drown out our honest thoughts, mask our true feelings and obscure the voice of God. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.
At times we may be worrying about situations in our lives, so we decide to spend more time in prayer. But our prayer tends to be us talking, and talking, and talking. We’re apt to only listen to those things that will confirm what we already think. We don’t want to be surprised by God.
If we really want the connection with God, if we are willing to take direction from the universe, then we need to cultivate a listening heart… one that quiets down and pays attention.
Rabbi Karyn Kedar, in her poem Messages from God, basically says there are two ways to approach this: either you believe that the universe has messages for you and guides you, or you don’t. If you don’t believe it, then we are each alone in the world without input from the Divine in any way, shape or form. The world and the universe are mute.
If you do believe the universe sends you messages, then going through life can be as exciting as a treasure hunt and we will keep our eyes and ears open for those messages, coincidences and synchronicity.
Let me use getting our puppy as an example… watch and see how easily this flowed. We’d been looking online and sort of convinced ourselves that the right puppy would find us. Julie and I were out walking one night and a woman on a bike stopped and asked us what happened to our last dog (oddly enough neither of us ever remember seeing her before). We explained that Rosie had congenital kidney problems and we had to put her down, and she asked if we were looking for another dog. We said, yes, we’d been looking at rescue sites online and made a few inquiries. Then she suggested that we try Lucky Mutts and gave them a glowing review. So, we got home, checked out the dogs at Lucky Mutts and found three puppies that seemed to fit our requirements due to arrive in Milwaukee in 5 days. We filled out the application, got a call the next day for a woman to come do a home visit. She brought her daughter (who happened to know my daughter) we had a good conversation, and were approved by the next day with one of the dogs (Cherry) on hold for us.
In the meantime, we had filled out an application with another rescue and the foster mom of the puppies we had applied for called me. She said she’d seen I was a pastor and had just been on our website! She was very excited and very persuasive about the puppy, Peep, she was fostering. We decided to go see both Peep and Cherry and then make a decision.
We met Peep first, and she was very cute and sweet, albeit a bit distracted and almost disinterested in us. We told Peep’s foster mom that we just didn’t know and still had to meet the other puppy. She said, you’re a pastor, you know to let the spirit lead you and you’ll feel which one is the right fit. (Apparently I need someone to remind me of this.) Well, we left and oddly none of us really felt like Peep was “it,” though there was no specific reason why.
When we got up to Milwaukee, they brought Cherry out to us and as we sat down in the grass to meet her. She immediately jumped up on each of us and gave us hugs and puppy kisses. The choice was obvious and instantaneous. Isn’t it amazing how all of that came together! I would have loved a big bold sign pointing to the right dog – THIS ONE! But when we were all called to pay attention, and we did, we knew.
Linda Douty says, “The task is to house our own portable sanctuary in the hallowed center of who we are—that place where we become so familiar with the sound of that still small voice that we can hear it in the MIDST of the whirlwind, in the very ebb and flow of our daily lives.”
How do we know when the still, small voice is talking? Well, what moves you? What brings tears to your eyes (in a good way)? What calls you to action? What excites you? What do you have a passion for? What stops you in your tracks? What makes you lost track of time? When these things happen, it may very well be the voice of God, and it behooves us to stop and listen carefully to what is being whispered in our hearts.
Rabbi Kedar says, “The world of the spirit speaks to you in a hundred voices. Listen with the heartbeat of your soul.”
Love & Light!