Boxes, boxes and more boxes. Each to be unpacked. Pieces to be unwrapped. Packing paper to stuff down lest it fill up the room itself. Lots of stuff unpacked. Where do we put it? Some closets and spaces no longer exist. Where’s the dust pan? Where’s the trash can? Where’s the trash bag? What was I doing before I went looking for the dust pan? Routines and norms are starkly missing. So is the box I still can’t find. Details overflow of things to address, people to call, problems—oh so many problems—to fix.
Disruption. Disorientation. Chaotic reconfiguration. Then the news of a tragic death and of a loved one with a major illness and surgery. Let alone political clashes, economic anxiety and global concerns, all swirling together in stress, tension and exhaustion. With a week like this, with a life like this, remember Elijah.
Elijah had run for dear life into the wilderness. Queen Jezebel was trying to kill him. Now he’s in a cave on the mountain presenting his case: I’ve been zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.
Have you been there? Been zealous. But now run down. Run after. Alone and afraid. Ready for it all to end? I’ve been zealous for the Lord. Now I alone am left, and they are seeing my life, to take it away.
Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. A mountain-splitting wind, an earthquake, fire, but the Lord was not in them. The Lord comes in a sound of sheer silence. Not in forceful blowing, quaking or burning. But in the absence of action, in silence.
For how long? Elijah senses the Lord in it, wraps his face and moves out of the cave. But how long was that sheer silence? Long enough to make Elijah stop? Long enough to make him listen? Long enough to awaken awareness? Awareness of the blowing, quaking and burning inside himself?
God, who with all power could come in any form, surprises us in silence. We too are caught off guard because that’s upside down. So contrary from the force and pride we’re accustomed to in the use of power. So contrary from the words and noise we’re accustomed to in daily life. Instead, silence invites us to stop and listen deeply to what is in us and the other.
Guests here at the Monastery and at Emery House remark our ethos of silence invites slowing down, restoring sleep, savoring food, being attentive to self and the Divine. It’s a “healing gift”1 we intentionally foster to give and receive. Compared to the cacophony of the world, silence keeps catching us off guard. Inviting wonder at being so loved by God.
God surprises Elijah by coming to him in sheer silence. God surprises the disciples by coming toward them walking on the sea.
Jesus says, Do not be afraid. It is I. Peter says, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. Jesus says, Come. Peter goes out and walks on the water toward Jesus. But then he notices the wind, he remembers the danger. The chaos, all that’s against him. He falters, he sinks, and he cries out Lord, save me. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.
Caught by the hand of Jesus. Caught and saved right there. Peter, like Elijah, is caught by God. Caught off guard by Jesus walking on the sea. Caught off guard by God appearing in sheer silence. Caught off guard by Love surprising and saving them.
Now Elijah was told the Lord was coming. He had an impressive succession of wind, earthquake and fire before silence. Peter and Jesus were walking on water! These seem rather obvious. Do you know when you’re caught? Know when you’re caught by God? I often don’t in the moment. But later when I stop and reflect, stop and silence myself in order to listen, I do notice God catching me.
There are many ways to do this, to pay attention to God’s action in our lives. One way that helps me is to stop and pray near bedtime. I ask myself these questions: “For what am I most thankful today? When was I most fully alive? How did I receive love? How did I give love?”2 For often in these moments, God was catching me: appearing in a surprising form, being right there to save me. Stopping to reflect, I now see and say “thank you.”
When I’m hurting or afraid or anxious, it can be hard to go to sleep. So by reviewing the day, I remember I was caught, I was loved. Holding these memories close to my heart, I can go to sleep, trusting for gifts of love tomorrow. “For what am I most thankful today? When was I most fully alive? How did I receive love? How did I give love?”
This practice of prayer, from the examen of Saint Ignatius, helps many go to sleep. Sleep despite the chaos and disorientation of moving. Sleep despite the fear of running for dear life. Sleep despite the fear of wind on the sea. Sleep resting in the arms of Divine Love. Love by whom we are caught off guard. Love by whom we are caught and saved.
When like Elijah you’re surprised by sheer silence, listen to God speaking deep inside.
When like Peter you’re scared by the wind on the sea, look to Jesus right there with you.
When bedtime nears, stop and review how the Spirit caught you by the hand and caught you off guard with love. Hold these close to your heart and go to sleep.
1 SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 27
Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. (1995) Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. Paulist Press.
Their similar book (2006) Making Heart-Bread is great for teaching this to children.
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