After the earthquake came a fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face
and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him,
What are you doing here, Elijah?
I King 19:12-13
The context of this story from the first book of Kings is that the prophet Elijah has fled for his life from a real and present threat and has spent the night in a cave. While in the cave, he hears God asking him to go and stand on a mountain, because the presence of the Lord is going to pass by. After this instruction is given, a great wind comes, then an earthquake, then a fire. But none of these dramatic events were the voice of God. Instead, the voice of God came to Elijah in a gentle whisper.
We look for God, listen for God, try to hear God, but often we do so with misguided assumptions. We expect God to speak to us with great drama.
But, more often than not, God comes to us in a gentle whisper. The God of the Universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, comes to us intimately, gently, quietly. This says a great deal about God, about the intimacy of the conversation that God offers us. It also says something about us. It tells us that in order to hear God, we will need to still and quiet ourselves and listen for God’s gentle whisper.
Imagine a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school with her new class. Picture the children sitting on a rug while the seasoned teacher sits on a child-sized chair, welcomes the children and talks to them about the guidelines for the classroom. For the first few minutes of talking to the children, the teacher whispers. The children and their parents sit very still, very quiet and lean in to hear every word she has to say.
Prayer is allowing ourselves to be those little children, sitting at the feet of our Maker, hearing the gentle whisper of God, speaking words of welcome and of instruction.
The fact that God speaks in a gentle whisper does not mean that we will always like what we hear. In this story, God knows that Elijah is afraid for his life and is in hiding. But this frightened hiding is not what God wants for Elijah. So God confronts Elijah asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?’ Elijah explains his fear and his behavior and God listens. This is, in fact, the second time they have had this conversation. God’s response is to call Elijah out of hiding.
In gentle, tender love God calls us out of our fear, out of our hiding. May we quiet ourselves to hear. May our spirits be moved by the quiet, powerful, intimate voice of God.
When I am afraid, I go into hiding.
I crawl into a cave
in an attempt to protect myself.
I need to hear your voice.
Still my fearful heart.
Let me be a little child before you,
listening for your gentle whisper
of loving instruction.
Give me the courage
and strength I need
to hear your voice
calling me out of hiding
and into your loving will.
Take some time to still and quiet yourself. Perhaps it would help to first pour out your fears and concerns to God. Then sit in a comfortable position, breathing easily, with hands open on your lap, inviting God to say whatever God might choose to say to you at this time. Listen for the gentle, loving whisper of God. If what you hear is harsh or judgmental, gently redirect your attention back to the loving heart of God. You may need to do this several times. If what you hear is silence, know that God is there with you in the silence. If what you hear is wisdom or instruction, write down what you hear and ask for the strength to respond.