For most of one night this week, we were without power on the wooded road where we live in Concord, the result of a series of intense thunderstorms that rolled through New Hampshire at the peak of a sweltering summer afternoon.
As I understand it, power lines were down on one end of our particular part of the road, while a couple of trees had fallen across the other; thus creating the need for a lengthy detour and essentially shutting down our whole neighborhood for outside traffic. So as the rain finally dissipated and a long muggy day gave way to a slightly cooler evening; and what with no cars or motorcycle whizzing by, and fans, air conditioners and various and sundry electronic devices disconnected from their power sources, we were suddenly enveloped by a rather eerie quiet, what the Bible describes as a sheer, “crushing silence,” (1 Kings 19:12) one that lasted pretty much through the night.
Not really, of course; at one point early on, the dog and I had gone outside to investigate and realized that while our road was indeed much quieter than usual, nonetheless all around us there was, in fact, much to be heard: the small but steady whirring of the neighbor’s generator; hydraulic hisses emanating from utility trucks trying to get the power back up and running; snatches of laughter and conversation emanating from front porches all up and done the street; and then, of course, there’s the ever-present rumble of the interstate highway that runs parallel to our road a half-mile or so away. In short, even without electricity, “blessed quietness” is a rare commodity! It was a vivid reminder of just how much the din of daily living has become so commonplace as to be barely noticed; and yet just how much we miss for all the noise around us.
I’ve always loved how in the Old Testament story of Elijah, the prophet – on the run from Jezebel and hiding out in a cave deep in the wilderness – hears the voice of God; but not, as he might have anticipated, in the roar of wind, earthquake and fire, but rather in the sheer silence that followed; that “still, small voice” that is so all-encompassing that it overwhelms everything else around it. I have to imagine that for Elijah, the experience was as uncomfortable and disconcerting as it was awe-inspiring; after all, such intense silence has a way of making one feel alone and vulnerable; and at least if God were to show up amidst the raging of the elements, one would know what to expect!
But to await such a word in the middle of such utter quietness, that’s something different.
I suspect that there’s at least one reason that so many of us tend to eschew even a fleeting moment or two of quiet in favor of cueing up an IPod playlist or making sure we’re surrounded by the white noise of a television or car radio: it’s because in true quietness, there’s nothing to distract us. And if there’s nothing to distract us, then we might actually have to listen… to the voice inside us: the voice of memory and hope intertwined, the voice that can alternately prod us forward or hold us back; the voice that all too often fills us with uncertainty, confusion or regret. Easier, we reason, to fill up our moments with all manner of sound and fury – even if it does, as Shakespeare once posited, signify nothing – than to open ourselves to the relentless cacophony of life’s Sturm und Drang.
And yet, it’s in the midst of that same blessed quietness – if we’re truly paying attention, mind you – that we’re apt to clearly discern the voice of a God who penetrates the chaos and speaks directly to our hearts with mercy, compassion and love; whose voice calms us, renews us, and at times stirs us by its very tone; and who might just be, in that one given moment of crushing silence, calling us out of the turmoil of life in order to walk in a new direction and with a new purpose; something that heretofore we hadn’t even considered!
The incredible truth of it – and its miracle – is that for all our effort to drown it out, it’s precisely this still, small voice that we’ve needed and wanted to hear all along; and isn’t it interesting that doing so requires us to attune both our ears and our hearts?
It is true what we’ve heard, you know… God is still speaking, and moreover in a voice, that while it may indeed be still and small, also can be clear and strong as discerned by the heart. So may each of us have the grace to quiet ourselves so that we can truly listen!
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry