God Is in the Silence

10 Jan

“He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 the sound of sheer silence.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

As I’m typing this, Edmonton is bracing for a blizzard with wind gusts to 40 miles per hour (60 km/h) along with over four inches (10 cm) of snow forecast for overnight and into tomorrow. Another windstorm passed over two nights ago, with winds of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) that had police responding to the din of burglar alarms. Needless to say, sleep has been at a premium so far this week.

During that last sleepless night, I also found it difficult to silence my mind. A storm of thoughts swirled and crashed around in my head unproductively. The book I had just finished reading about prayer and relationship with the Lord, Ignacio Larrañaga’s “Sensing Your Hidden Presence: Toward Intimacy with God”, seemed to do me little good. “Please God”, I prayed at one point, “allow me to rest. I need to work in the morning.” But rest wasn’t to be had…

I managed to slog through Monday at work, with the help of excess amounts of coffee. The day crawled by slowly. My fatigued mind had nearly ground to a halt. Somehow, though, God was there toiling along with me.

Recently, a friend and I were discussing the movie “The Nativity Story”, which we had seen just before Christmas. I won’t provide too many details here, for those who have yet to see the film. However, the passage from 1 Kings that I quoted above was used often in the movie. In one scene, the children are being taught in school to memorize the passage. It reminded me of a kindergarten class, where the little pupils are so eager to learn but can’t seem to sit still for very long. In yet another scene, Mary is shown reciting the verse with the children, who are attentive toward her. This is just before Mary is told by the angel that she is pregnant. She is told not to fear, but that is of little consolation.

In our lives, we may recite, study, and memorize facts and details. Sometimes, though, knowledge that is hastily acquired during sleepless, caffeine-aided cramming sessions produce little benefit. We are left confused by the muddled mass of numbers, text, and figures.

Our encounter with God can be much the same as a last-minute all-nighter or a sleepless night during a windstorm. In a fitting conclusion to his book, Fr. Larrañaga juxtaposes two responses to our day-to-day struggle before the Lord: the response of discouragement and that of hope.

Fr. Larrañaga returns to a scene he portrays earlier in the book: that of a newborn child. The baby is freed from the mother’s womb and forced to take its first breath. It is on its own. Eventually, breathing, feeding, and moving become routine. Then other more complex challenges become pertinent. The child learns right from wrong and thus makes choices. One who is raised according to religious faith may in turn feel close to God, but more or less often may sense isolation and despair. Any attempts to live righteously and faithfully are met with procrastination. This is true for even the most saintly people. For example, St. Augustine would pray, “Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet”. (Confessions III, Chapter VII). This tendency to delay prayer, penance, and conversion, even when God seems far away and faith is arid, leads to misery. Ignacio Larrañaga, alluding to St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle”, says that persistent hopelessness leads to the death of the soul- our interior castle- where God dwells in us intimately if we patiently allow Him in. One who is without hope will declare, “What I do know with certainty is one thing: there is no hope for me. What I was until today and what I am now, I will be until the end. My grave will rise upon the ruins of my own castle.” (Larrañaga, p. 328 )

St. Augustine may have met this end had his mother, St. Monica, and his mentor, St. Ambrose, not applied a persistent effort in prayer and teaching. Instead, the Church remembers St. Augustine as one of its greatest minds. St. Augustine’s life shows us the value of the response of hope. With such bold and joyful anticipation, we rise above impending ruin and seek our vocation. We find and welcome God who is in and of the sheer silence. It is God that passes by and beckons without making a sound as we stand attentively, awaiting Him. His call is therefore difficult to discern, but we believe in this Presence and make Him present in ourselves, becoming one with Him.

We are reminded daily: “Walk. The Lord God will be light for your eyes, breath for your lungs, ointment for your wounds, goal for your path, reward for your effort. Come. Let us begin again.” (Larrañaga, p. 329)

Lord, let us begin again when we are tired and the light of our faith is dimming. After we are shaken to attentiveness by the earthquake and by the wind, and purified by the fire, may you find us in the silence. We await your call. Help us to listen for and to respond to it. Amen.



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