Elijah was told, “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 a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)
The last few weeks have been a distinct adjustment here at the church office. I did not appreciate the difference Jennifer’s retirement would make in the atmosphere of the office. I knew I would miss her, but I wasn’t prepared for the silence to powerfully transform the workplace. Although I do appreciate quiet times, especially for prayer, the silence was nearly deafening.
Silence is something we don’t experience all that often these days. It seems we are never far from a phone to ring, or chime some notification. There is a background hum of electricity, or computers, or the drone of cars passing on a nearby road. We have become so accustomed to the background noise of life, that when that soundtrack suddenly disappears, we notice the silence.
For the two weeks between Jennifer retiring and Linda Summers starting as our church secretary, I felt strangely alone while at the church. Sure the hum of electricity was still there, as was the occasional phone call, and the sound of the traffic on the highway. All that silence started me thinking, was it really the noise I was missing, or the sense that someone else was there?
As Elijah stood on the side of the mountain, anticipating God, he experienced all sorts of things we would anticipate to accompany the almighty, strong winds, raging fire, and the earth literally shaking. But God was not in any of those things. God’s presence was in the silence, the stillness, the quietness. I wonder how often we miss out on the presence of God because we are focused on the ways we expect God to show up.
I expect to see God in the sunrise and in the sunset. I’ve seen God’s glory there before so I’m not as awestruck when I sense God’s presence there again. I have seen the wonder in a child’s eyes as they learn and experience new things, so I’m not startled by God’s presence in those moments. I regularly experience God’s presence in worship, so it comes as no surprise when the spirit enters the room on Sunday morning. Those, and countless others, are examples of earthquakes, and fires, and hurricane winds; places we expect to find God.
Where do you expect to find God in your life? Maybe more importantly, where does God show up unexpected? What is your silent place that allows for God’s voice to speak?
I didn’t anticipate that God would use those two weeks to get my attention. But it happened. I realized, more clearly than ever before, the importance of teamwork in all that we do. Simply having another set of eyes to look over newsletters and bulletins, or having someone available to answer the phone when you need to leave the office for a few minutes… Even just having someone else in the building to remind you that there is someone else in the world, matters.
Although that silence was loud and (at times) oppressive, it was also a reminder that God is ALWAYS near. We may not always sense God’s presence, we may not always see God’s glory, we may not always hear God’s voice. But God is near. May you sense God’s presence today and every day.