After Elijah’s extraordinary demonstration of the power of the Lord at Mount Carmel, where he set fire to his sacrifices on an altar surrounded by water simply calling on the Lord to set light to them he took all the prophets of Baal to the Wadi at Kishon and killed them there. For this reason he is fleeing for his life he is on the run from Jezebel and her forces and is hiding in a cave. Now often when we are in peril we turn to God for help and Elijah of course does just this. But the question then will be where do we look for God and how do we find him? I went through a phase of reading books about mountaineering not so much Chris Bonnington but storires of much earlier climbers with little more than ropes who climbed the Swiss alps, one book I recall was called Summits and Secrets and it provided insight into the climbers’ minds, their delight and awe they found in crossing glaciers, camping on ridges, and naturally on attaining summits. They were inspiring accounts and certainly a mountain would be a very good place to connect with the divine.
So we need to imagine ourselves in shelter high up on a mountain having been told that the Lord is to pass by. Now this is a stimulating idea, how would we feel if we were told that the Lord is to pass by out there just next to St. Clements? We would surely go to see and we might be even more inclined to go if there were a mighty wind, after all God is big and all powerful so a wind so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks could seem to be exactly what we expect, but the Lord was not there. An earthquake, likewise deeply resonant, terrifying literally earth shattering but the Lord was not there nor in the flickering tongues of fire and the crackle and snap of burning woodland. And then there was the sound of sheer silence.
I doubt any of us has ever heard it - maybe Mike Tapper in his submarine lying on the ocean bottom - but even then I am not sure. It is so difficult to find total quiet, deserts are claimed to be the best - here is Gertrude Bell writing to her father during her first desert journey: “Shall I tell you my first impression, the silence. Silence and solitude fall around you like an impenetrable veil.” Usually there is always something making a noise somewhere, and in any case this silence is not an absence not arrived at by stripping away the sounds of animals, birds, insects, twigs or heartbeats but it is a presence. The Lord passed by bringing the SILENCE of the very beginning with him. This may be more terrifying than all that went before, the earth was a formless void and the darkness covered the deep and God said “What are you doing here Elijah?” Contemplate that for a moment, that you have gone to look for Godin one of your favourite and expectant places, on the marsh in a cathedral, p a mountain and God comes in this great silence and asks:
“Steve what are you doing here?”
John Greenleaf Whittier, an American Quaker poet born in 1807 in Massachusetts is known to us as the author of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,. We all recall the final line of the hymn referring to our passage from 1 Kings “speak to us through the earthquake wind and fire, O still small voice of calm” but in the original poem, called “The brewing of Soma” which is about priests seeking the divine there is this verse omitted from the hymn:
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of your call
As noiseless let thy blessing fall
As fell thy manna down.
The Lord passes by and brings down the impenetrable veil subduing our words and works which are filling God’s silence which is there within us - and when we find this deep inner peace than we are ready to face the question:
“What are we doing here?”