Jesus walks on the water, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888). Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: True silence is filled with possibilities

  • August 2, 2020

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 9 (Year A) 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-23

God is certainly capable of great deeds of power. This is most evident in the Exodus account of the Old Testament. But there is another side of God — God’s preferred side — that is quiet, gentle and often disguised to the point of invisibility.

We are unfamiliar with this aspect of God because we do not know how to look and listen in a way that opens the eyes and ears of our hearts. Elijah learned this lesson well as he stood at the mountain waiting for God to pass by.

A great wind came, one filled with destructive force, but God was not in it. This was followed by an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake either. God was not present in the fire that passed by, so where was God?

These displays of what we would call the forces of nature were to ancient peoples the manifestations of divinity. All of these were brushed aside, to be followed by something unexpected. It is described by a puzzling Hebrew word that has been translated in several ways. “A still small voice,” “a light murmuring sound,” “a tiny whispering sound” and “a gentle whisper” have all appeared in various English translations, but our version opts for “the sound of sheer silence,” which is also a rather puzzling concept.

The point is clear: It was not flashy or noisy, but gentle and almost imperceptible. But there was no mistaking its meaning, for Elijah covered his face — he knew he had been in God’s presence.

True silence is more the absence of noise — it is alive and filled with energy and possibilities. We need to wean ourselves from images of God generated by hyper-imaginative piety or Hollywood movies. The deepest and most rewarding communion with God occurs in silence and stillness, and we can cultivate those states even in the midst of the noise and chaos of our world.

We cannot gorge on noise, media, visual distractions or frenetic activity and expect to hear the “still small voice” or anything like it. It is not necessary to go to a cave or a monastery. We can create our own internally regardless of where we are.

Paul lived and died a believing Jew and saw himself in that role. He did not convert from Judaism to Christianity, for the latter did not exist yet as an independent entity. But he believed fervently that Jesus was the promised Messiah and yearned for his fellow Jews to believe this too.

He felt that he would even be willing to be accursed and cut off for their sake. He recognized their unique and stellar role in salvation history, which Christians have often ignored or downplayed.

They were — and still are — the children of Israel, and possess the adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, promises, patriarchs and the ancestry of Jesus Himself. These will never be taken away and they should always be honoured and respected.

Doubt and fear are powerful killers. They undo the great works of God and hold God’s miracles at bay. The stormy sea of Galilee was the venue for several of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus had remained behind to be alone and pray — something He rarely got an opportunity to do.

In the midst of a raging storm, He met His terrified disciples by walking across the sea. They thought He was a ghost, but He reassured them. But Peter demanded proof. If it really was Jesus, He should command Peter to meet Him by walking on the water.

Jesus complied, and at first all was well. Peter’s mind and heart were in harmony with Jesus, so he was able to do the “impossible.” But then fear kicked in. He noticed the wind and waves, and the harmonious link with the Lord was broken. He began to sink and had to be hauled out by Jesus, who upbraided him for his doubt and lack of faith.

We are unable to succeed in so many of our grand undertakings because we not only listen to our doubts and fears, we are ruled by them. Our minds are not in harmony with God.

If humans put aside their fears and doubts for but one day, the world would be transformed. With God nothing is impossible, but we must first give our inner consent.