Elijah is at the cave… there is strong winds, an earthquake and a fire… there is sheer silence… and then God asks: “What are you doing here Elijah?”
This piece of scripture from 1 Kings 19: 11-13 has long been a favorite of mine; in fact, it was proclaimed at my Solemn Vows. The idea of sheer silence and God being heard in that silence speaks to my vocation story. How it was in a moment of me not having an answer or a reason that God broke into my heart (or I let God into my heart) and my Franciscan story began. Now these years later I am seeing again how sheer silence is speaking to my heart and awakening me to a true depth of the true self that I am in God. How the gift of sheer silence allows me to be grounded and to breathe more deeply.
Just over a week ago I was taking part in an online retreat for young religious (sisters, brothers, priests) from across Canada. Although we were not physically gathered together it truly was a wonderful experience of retreat and community. The input we received from well seasoned religious and the sharing we did in our small groups spoke to the core of our vocation and challenged us as religious to be receptive, relational and rooted in the resurrection. All movements of life, of being Christ like and how to live out our vocation. There were countless tidbits of “aha” moments throughout the days together. So many that I’m still processing them and allowing them to stir within me new realities and truths for vocation as a religious brother.
One of the tidbits shared came from this text of 1 Kings 19. One the presenters reminded us that the wind, earthquake and fire are not moments of God being absent rather they were intense moments or movements of prayer leading to the gentle breeze that settled into the sheer silence. I had never considered that before. I always took the wind, earthquake and fire as distractions from the true presence of God. When one considers these situations as moments or movements of prayer then I believe we are drawing closer into the heart of God. If we can see God in the storms, in the chaos, in the purging, in the noise I believe that we can truly open ourselves up to the power of the moment and movement of sheer silence.
This realization brought great awareness and even comfort to me. It helped me to appreciate the journey which led to my saying “yes” to becoming a Friar. It also reminded me that God is present in all the moments, even the ones that feel out of control. When I bring myself from these moments to prayer of sitting in the sheer silence, God whispers to me time and again about being present. As one of the retreat presenters reminded us, we must live our lives in tension, not simply seeking relief but holding the healthy tension. This tension is where our hearts go deeper and where our true self emerges. The true self we so often hide or masquerade with other images.
Which leads me to the question that God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” I have heard that question in this text before, but today, in these days that question is swarming around me like bees to their hive. It’s not leaving me nervous or anxious. The question seems to be vibrating off the page. It is reverberating in my heart with life, freshness and even freedom.
For the first time in my journey, “What are you doing here?” isn’t about having to achieve or accomplish something, prove something or even have some great insight or answer. The question also doesn’t come with shock as in the “why the heck are you here?” or with disappointment “oh you are here, why?” The question comes as invitation.
It is an invitation from God; asking me to look within, to surrender and to allow. It is an invitation into the heart of God. “What are you doing here in my heart, child?” God seems to ask. Not with the hurry up make a choice and move along feeling we get while in line at an ice cream stand. Rather it is the invitation to remain here allowing oneself to go deeper, to listen, to breathe in the fullness of the question and know that in God’s heart – through wind, earthquake, fire and sheer silence moments and movements – the answer is made known – it is where the “yes” comes from for my vocation and the courage to enter more deeply into this new reality. A reality of the life-Christ-living depth of being receptive, relational and rooted in the resurrection.
“What are you doing here?”
You too are being asked.
Don’t run and hide.
Stay with the question even if it makes you squirm or it feels like an earthquake or fills you with sheer silence.
May the gift of continuing summer days give you the space, as they are me,
to sit with this question in your own journey.