The voice of the Lord flashes like flames of fire,
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness,
The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl,
and strips forests bare;
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps 29:3-5a,7,8a,9)
The voice of the Lord speaking to us is truly powerful, but tragically we so fill our lives with noise that even a voice with the power to bind and loose, to create and destroy, is blocked from penetrating into the lush garden that is the human soul, the very place where the Lord wishes most to walk in harmony with his creation.
It is precisely in these times—the times of harried and frenzied activity that swirls and grows until we are almost overcome in a vertigo of near collapse from stress, when our inexplicable lust to do more and more crescendos to a feverish pitch—that we must set ourselves apart, get away, and recover that primordial silence in which the thunder of the voice of God can once again be heard. In these moments, we can hear the revelatory explosions of his incommensurate love and his lofty desire to incorporate us into him completely, to wash away our guilt, to give us a life of greatness, and to call us his children—if only we would let him! Silence is the necessary precondition for listening, and listening is precisely what we must to do—what guarantees our mode of cooperation with God.
In seminary, as in all of life, it is always at the times when it seems practically impossible to take time to retreat into silence that it is most important to do so. Silence is the medium for exploring one’s vocation. Without silence, without retreats, without quiet meditation, without pausing to breathe in the sweet fragrance of God’s love which surrounds us and envelops our souls, we simply cannot enjoy our surest happiness, that happiness given by a loving Father to all who are willing to be led into the truth, all who are willing to follow his voice.
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Elijah went up on the mountain of the Lord, and “the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore 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;” this was the voice of the Lord, heard only once Elijah had intentionally focused, despite the storms and distractions, on this smallest of sounds (1 Kg 19: 11-12).
I wonder if the Lord is speaking to me in a thunderous whisper? I wonder if he is just waiting for me to clear away the detritus of my technological and self-complicated life? I wonder if God really speaks to anyone? If he really calls anyone by name? If he really has anything to say at all? My answer can only be found in silence.