Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sheer Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

Ignatian Exercise on I Kings 19:1-15
When Ahab got home, he told Jezebel everything Elijah had done, including the way he had killed all the prophets of Baal. So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.
Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”
So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai,[a] the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.
But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
15 Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. 16 Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi[b] to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. 17 Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! 18 Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”
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Picture yourself as Elijah. You have just experienced one of the greatest highs of your life: the contest on Mt. Carmel -  one against 850 false prophets and all the people of Israel . . . and God showed out for you. But as a result, now the Queen is mad as a hornet and just as deadly and out to kill you. You fear from your life like never before and run . . . and run . . . and run . . .     Finally you can run no more. You have no strength left. You don’t even care if she finds you, you just beg for God to find you first and ask Him to be merciful and take your life. You’ve gone from your highest high to your deepest low and you are done, stick-a-fork-in-you done. You fall into an exhausted sleep . . . for hours and pray you stay there forever.

After many hours, something stirs you awake, something like a gentle touch of a feather on your face. You open your eyes, half asleep, half expecting that Queen Jezebel has found you at last and is standing over you with a knife poised above your heart, just waiting so you can be awake enough to experience the terror and painful death that awaits you.  Instead, you find it is an angel wing that caresses your face. You look up and discover he has cooked you savory bread and it keeping it hot on a hot stone and has a refreshing jar of sparkling spring water for you as well. You eat and drink as a ravenous wolf and your body and soul are refreshed, restored.
Once again you lay down but the angel directs you to eat and drink again, informing you the journey ahead will be too much for you if you refuse. “What journey?” you wonder. You had no plans to move from this place of death but apparently God has further plans for you. So you do as the angel commands and feel a supernatural strengthening. You decide God must be summoning you to meet with Him on His holy mount – Mt. Sinai-, so you set out, knowing it is a 40 day journey and that is only if you travel by day and by night.

Days later you miraculously find yourself at your destination, knowing full well that only by God’s grace and strength have you made it this far. You crawl into a cave to get some much needed rest. But before your eyes can close, the Lord speaks. “ What are you doing here (Elijah - ___________ insert your name.)?”

The Lord is asking you the same. Why have you journeyed this long and this far to come to His holy mountain, where He “resides”? What are you doing here? Elijah’s answer was one of a victim: “I’ve done nothing wrong, faithfully been zealous for You, God, but they’re out to get me; all of Israel have turned from You, torn down Your church, killed all Your prophets!” (Elijah was prone to exaggeration about his circumstances, about himself.)

How do you respond in dire situations? With complaints to God? With exaggerations? Or with gratefulness for what He has done and trust in what He is going to do?  Journal how you would respond to God’s question of you. (when you see this symbol******, that is your opportunity to pause and journal your response or question to God)

God didn’t respond immediately to Elijah’s answer but told him to “go out of the cave and stand on the mountain and watch Me pass by.” What do you do, think, say when God doesn’t address the concerns you’ve brought to Him? How do you respond? ********

Then the weather turned foul, more foul than Elijah had ever experienced in his life. First a tornado blasted through. He almost lost his life as the sides of the mountain crashed around him. Then the earth began to rumble and actually split in two! If that wasn’t enough drama, then a fire hotter than 10 hells flared up and almost turned him to ash. In all of that explosive display, God did not reveal Himself. Then a thunderous silence. . .  so quiet it almost sucked the air right out of his lungs.   But God revealed Himself in the silence.

In your own life, what circumstances, relationships or ideas seem like explosive displays?******* Which parts of your life make the most noise?***** Which parts consume you? ******* When does it feel like everything is falling apart around you?***** How do you respond?*****
What is the sound of sheer silence like for you? Especially when you want to hear something from God?***** How might God be in the sheer silence?***** Spend some time listening to the sheer silence.***** Now, how would you answer God’s repeated question to Elijah, to you . . . “What are you doing here?”*****

As a result of this time, God did give Elijah some very specific directions to fulfill the call God had on Elijah’s life. What directions or invitation might God be giving you right now?*****

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Dear God, I thank You that the sheer silence clears the way for me to experience You and just BE in Your Presence, which is a greater gift than even Your Word. Your Word gives guidance but Your Presence gives so much more. As a friend sits silently with one who is grieving (as in Job) and his presence alone communicates how much he cares, even more than his words could, so too with Your Presence. in the silence. I thank You for Your presence, felt or unfelt....*****

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