Listening in a Very Loud World

Have you ever watched television evangelists preaching to a congregation? Regardless of race and denomination, often you hear them so frenzied with excitement, they are yelling. And many times the congregation is whipped into the frenzy as well as witnessed by shouts of “Amen” and often when the camera pans the crowd people stand heads tipped back, arms raised, eyes closed in seeming ecstasy. Would their reaction be the same without the emotional appeal of a raised voice? Surely THIS is God’s voice coming through this man? And God led the people of Israel in the desert as a column of cloud during the day and fire during the night (Exodus 13:21-22) so of course He would speak in a loud, booming voice and have a firm command.

But read further in the Bible, take, for example, Elijah:

There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came to him: Why are you here, Elijah? He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.” Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.

When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?

1 Kings 19:9-13

God didn’t speak to Elijah in the wind, earthquake or fire but in the silence that followed. And Elijah heard because he was actively listening for God. That’s how God chooses to speak to most people who are listening for Him today, in the places of silence. In the tiny whispers.

We live in a loud world now. There is a 24 hour news cycle, multiple social media websites, screaming on talk radio, arguments with strangers in online forums and comments sections, billboards, and you can’t not notice how the volume cranks up with no one touching the remote when a commercial comes on television. And that’s to say nothing of the demands of our personal life where husbands need us to listen about stressful days at work, children need that glass of milk RIGHT NOW, school requires immediate action on that field trip form, the dog is trying to hold it til you can get the door open, and even church needs us to remember to collect spare change for CRS Project Rice Bowl and name brand soda for the festival. Yeah, I’m sure God screaming in all of this to get our attention would have to come natural-disaster-style to really get our attention.

We have to make our seeking out of God an active thing. We can’t sit there and wait for Him to show up like the Jewish people did for 200 years after the Prophet Malachi passed. We have gifts He gave us, after all, that they didn’t have. Namely His Son and the Holy Spirit. We have Jesus’ life and words at the ready in our Bibles as well as the teachings of the Prophets, but we have to actively set aside time to read and reflect on what is there. We have to mentally, spiritually, and sometimes physically step away from the noise of the world to hear what is written there. We have Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and when we are able to visit Him in Eucharistic Adoration either in person or virtually, we must force ourselves to tune out of the world around us. Turn off our cell phones, shut other browser windows and focus our eyes and hearts on Him. We have the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, we sometimes forget about this Third Person of the Holy Trinity despite invoking His name each time we pray the Sign of the Cross. I’m here to tell you it’s time to remember and to not just remember, but to engage. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit for discernment in hearing God’s voice and strength to truly listen and follow. We should be seeking the Holy Spirit as actively as we do the Father and the Son.

God can show up in big ways, but I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have a hurricane or earthquakes, or forest fires every time God needs to make His presence known. God only did that kind of stuff for people who were wavering in their faith, straying far from the flock or actively disobeying His direct orders (ahem, Jonah).  We should be seeking Him beyond Sunday services and we should be making sure we’re listening. In this time of loud, we should be finding Him in the Silence.