"Who will you be listening to this week?" the presenter of this week-long continuing- education event on transitional ministry asked our group at 9 pm after an already long day of lectures, small group discussions and one-on-one conversations. "It's not a rhetorical question," he pressed on. "You will be listening to a lot of us standing up here speaking. You will be listening to your peers and colleagues. And you will be listening to yourself speaking your truths aloud and inwardly. However, there is one voice that we challenge you to carve out time to listen to..." Of course, we all knew immediately the voice to which he was referring.
On the drive home tonight, I thought about the question. Perhaps it is a question we should each ask ourselves each week as a challenge and invitation to seek the voice and presence of the holy. "Who will I be listening to this week?"
In a given week, think of all the things that we listen to. Consider all the voices that cry out for our attention. Ponder the sounds and sound-bytes that distract us. Too often the cacophony of this world is so loud that it is difficult to clear out the noise in order to hear ourselves think, let alone to hear the voice of God speaking to us.
There is a story in the nineteenth chapter of 1 Kings in which Elijah is struggling to make sense of all the inner and outer voices that surround him. Voices of fear, anxiety, insecurity, and doubt. He retreats to Mount Horeb perhaps hoping to find some relief from all that he had been listening to and to give his mind, body and spirit rest. An angel of the Lord appears to him and finally asks, "What are you doing here, Elijah? (verse 9)" To which Elijah explains that he is in fear of his life and is waiting for a word and promise from the Lord.
As verse 11-12 explains, "Then the Lord said to Elijah, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper."
The phrase from verse 12 "gentle whisper" is a translation of the Hebrew phrase Qol dmamah daqah. The best translation of the Hebrew is not a "gentle whisper" or a "small still voice," but rather the "voice of silence." It is in the silence that Elijah discovers the voice of God and chooses to listen. I believe he is able to listen to God when he finally quiets the other voices that had been competing in his mind for the most attention.
I believe the same can be true of us. Too often, we expect to hear the voice of God in bold, loud, and dramatic ways...like the strength of a powerful wind, the force of an earthquake or an all-consuming fire. Yet, the truth is, sometimes we can only hear God's voice in the "dmamah", in the silence.
WHO will you be listening to this week? I invite you, as I too am challenged, to try to listen to the voice of God. Try to clear some time in your routines and schedules to clear away the distraction and to quiet the voices all around you. Quiet your heart, your mind, and your spirit, and I believe you, like Elijah, will hear the voice of God speaking to you and offering you wisdom, guidance, and peace.
May it be so in your life.
Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister