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Listening in Turbulent Times

June 22, 2019

For four nights and three days we were on a Silent Retreat at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. The only time silence was broken was to speak with a Spiritual Director. The silence and time for reflection was what I needed and God did indeed speak through the silence with a gentle whisper.

As I wandered about the campus with my iPhone camera in hand, it was pretty amazing. The songs of the birds were ever present and the breeze blowing was as well. As I read a biography of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, he came alive to me. As I immersed myself in Scripture in the Ignatian way, it came alive to me. It was truly a time of reflection and restoration.

This was far different from the “retreat” which Elijah found himself in the midst of. He had retreated to a cave in fear for his life. In the contest between Elijah and the Prophets of Ba’al, God had acted in a mighty way as the false prophets were defeated. He ordered the false prophets to be killed and in doing that he ticked off (a mild choice of words, I must admit) King Ahab and Queen Jezebel! Jezebel was out for blood and wanted Elijah to be hunted down and brought before her so that she could order his death.

So, in an instant so to speak, Elijah went from being the victorious prophet of the one true God to being on the run. As Elijah went into hiding in the wilderness, he collapsed underneath a broom tree. He was pretty much ready to call it quits and was upset with God. Yet God is patient with him and sends an angel to feed and encourage him.

Despite the miraculous interventions by God, Elijah has pretty much given up. He ended up in a cave feeling sorry for himself and he quickly forgot God’s mighty and miraculous acts. It was at that point that Elijah hit bottom.

I might not be able to relate to the intensity of what Elijah was facing, but I have found myself in times of deep distress and turmoil. At times like that, it is hard for me to sense God’s presence, let alone hear God’s voice. At times like that, I want to hide in a cave and avoid the world. Yet, it is at times like that, when I am the most vulnerable, that God speaks and I actually listen!

Elijah had been used to seeing and experiencing the mighty acts of God. Did he expect God to speak to him in a mighty way? As he stood at the entrance to the cave, did he expect to hear God in the Mighty Wind? Did he expect to hear God in the earthquake or fire? Perhaps he did. However, that was not how God chose to speak to the prophet. God spoke to Elijah in the midst of sheer silence, or as other translations say, a still small voice or a gentle whisper.

One of the things that I learned over the course of the Ignatian Silent Retreat was how God can and does speak in the silence. Especially in times of difficulty, exhaustion, or chaos, we need to slow down and simply Be Still.

Saint Ignatius reminded me over the course of the retreat how important it is to Be Still and to be Silent. It is at times like that when we are the most vulnerable and the most open to hearing God’s gentle whisper as God calls us to live, love, and serve.

In the words of Samuel, may we Be Still and simply say Speak Lord, your Servant is listening.

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