Silence

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.

Learning and Knowing

Point your kids in the right direction —
when they’re old they won’t be lost.
Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)

Yet another school year is just about to begin in Marshfield. In just a few days students will be returning to the halls of the local schools. Some will be excited by the prospect of learning new things in the next several months. Others will be anxious about whether or not they will know anyone in their class, or in their lunch period. Still others will dread the return to the classroom, preferring the relaxed summer atmosphere to the expectations and pressure of classes.

The pending return to classes, and an invitation to a high school reunion, have prompted me to reflect on my own days in school. I can name several teachers who lived out the proverb of pointing us in the right direction. Those names make me smile, because they truly touched my life and are much of the reason that I haven’t been too lost as an adult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a few wrong turns on the road of life. For the most part those “scenic detours” have led to momentary confusion, not a full-blown case of being lost. And those early teachers, at school, at home, and at church, are the ones I owe my thanks. They pointed me in the right direction. Which has been more beneficial for me than any of the actual coursework they assigned. I may not remember the texts we read, or the assignments I completed. But I do remember the lessons I learned.

I learned that how you treat others is important. I learned it is best to be honest and caring. And I learned that no one ever knows it all. That may have been the most important lesson of my childhood. Because we never know it all, we can never stop learning. There is a corollary as well, no one is ever perfect. That means we can never stop trying, practicing, or reaching. We can, and should, work to be life-long students, and always seek to improve in every aspect of our lives.

The ideal of learning something new throughout our lives is a way of constantly enriching our minds. Exercise and diet help us to maintain our physical bodies in the best shape possible. Engaging in spiritual disciplines, worship, and Bible study helps us to continue to grow spiritually. And, regular interaction with others through friendship and fellowship aids in maintaining a strong emotional support system. Taking care of our whole being empowers us to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Life-long learning allows us to know a good many things. However, there are some things which we simply must rely on our faith to “know.” Hebrews 11:1-2 says, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.” (The Message) As much as I want to learn those about the things that I can experience with my senses, I also want to know God, who transcends all of our senses.

In Psalm 46:10 the psalmist writes: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” (NRSV) Even with the hustle and bustle of life. With the myriad of tasks which lay before us in the coming days, it is so very important to take time to be still. For it is in that quiet stillness where the voice of God is most clearly heard. When the noise of life becomes overbearing and the challenge of learning new and exciting things threatens to drown out the Author of All Things, take the advice of stillness. Be still and know God.