Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
The drama of the First Reading today seems a little underdone by the actual text. Picture the events, though: the prophet Elijah is told that he is about to encounter God Almighty there on the mountain, just outside the cave where he has been sheltering. As he steps out, there is a mighty wind, tossing the shrubs here and there, end even shattering the rocks – apparently tearing the very mountain apart! Extraordinary!
But this is not God coming.
Next, an earthquake shakes the ground – probably knocking down more rocks and terrifying Elijah and anyone else who experienced it. Dramatic!
But it isn’t God.
Then, a fire whips up, burning trees and bushes on the mountainside, casting a red glow against the sky. Amazing!
But that fire is not God.
Finally, a tiny, whispering sound comes. Next the rumbling of the rocks and the crackling of the burning fire, it must have been almost unnoticeable. But Elijah heard it. Rather underwhelming.
But now, the prophet hides his face and prepares to encounter the Lord. Because God was there – in that tiny whispering sound. He was ready to listen, as God was ready to talk.
Friends, we are living in an age of noise – lots of noise. In fact, it has gotten to the point that we are uncomfortable with silence. The busier, more active, and louder things are, the more comfortable we can feel. Distractions abound, and they are even sought out; because life is scary.
But, what does all that noise hold for us? Is there really comfort in it? Do we hope to encounter meaning and rebirth from overactivity? It’s not our fault. Noise and distraction seem to be the way of the world. When things get to intense, or when attention becomes too focused, it is often the practice of people to distract, deflect, and divert attention with either noise, lies, or fury. A song from my youth sums it up nicely:
You just stood there screaming
Fearing no one was listening to you
They say the empty can rattles the most
The sound of your own voice must suit you
Hearing only what you want to hear
And knowing only what you've heard
This is the way of the world. The powerful try to distract by talking, even when they have nothing to say (and that’s very often, isn’t it?). Their insecurity prevents them from just being quiet – from listening to others, or to God – and from being open to another point of view.
We are being asked to move beyond that. To step away from the noise and confusion – like the Apostles felt in that boat as it was tossed by the storm. And we are being called to take a step toward Jesus – like Peter. It means letting go of our presuppositions and our “worldly” knowledge. It means opening ourselves up to God’s way of acting – to God’s power and influence in our lives.
The disciple must learn to quiet themselves; because God will not compete with the nonsense and the noise of our world. When we ask “where is God?” in the midst of our current struggles, perhaps we are asking wrongly. Maybe God is simply waiting for you and me to just shut up – for the world to quiet down – so that that tiny whispering sound can enter our ears and bring us to hear God’s voice. The Psalm today tells us: “I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord – for He proclaims peace.”
If we hope to receive that peace, we must imitate Elijah and not allow the noise of the world – impressive as it may be – to distract us from the quiet voice of God. He is waiting to speak; are we open to listen?