The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 1 Kings 19: 11-12
Not many of us will be standing at cenotaphs this year. We’ll be in church!
At the eleventh hour organs will swell across the diocese and voices will blend in familiar harmonies. We may think for the moment that all of the voices are audible, but we’d be wrong. Joining in the crescendo will be the whole company of heaven, as we phrase it.
Those that have died in the Lord face down, in muddy fields, clutching a wound -- their voices are heard again as well.
We haven’t always heard their voices at the cenotaph services held around the province. We’ve heard the names of the dead read out over the loud speakers and we’ve heard the names of the benefactors of Armistice who have given a cross or a wreath or a spray. In the silence I only heard the shuffling of cold feet on damp leaf strewn lawn. In the silence I only heard the breathing of impatience waiting for 120 seconds to elapse.
This year will be different; at least it’ll be different for a lot of us.
In the silence that wrapped Elijah with fear, God’s voice was heard. God allowed the silence to be filled with what was needed to be said.
We know the story although it may be a bit spotty here and there. Ahab had coveted Nabob’s vineyard and it didn’t take a lot of encouragement from his queen, Jezebel, to acquire it under circumstances he would not question. Jezebel’s sworn revenge for the death of the prophets of Baal had filled Elijah with terror in the wake of these events.
It strikes me as a very complicated way for God to ask the penetrating question of Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What was he doing indeed!
Searching for the solace of the tried and true patters that had upheld his confidence when it flagged, Elijah found disappointment. Disappointment followed disappointment, and he kept looking. The Lord was not in the wind, while certainly the witnesses were not wrong on their report of the filling of the Temple with God’s presence! While the Lord was in the blast of the shofar and the earthquake that brought down the walls of Jericho, earthquakes no longer confined Him. The flames of a bush that wasn’t consumed may have warmed Moses, but for Elijah the Lord is no longer restricted to the unique metaphor.
And silence is the same.
What will we hear in the silence this year?
Praise will be heard, and familiar voices will be heard. Voices will sing in tune and out of tune, and they will all be heard. And in our giving voice to the silence we might find an answer to the question asked of Elijah and asked of us as well. “Elijah…, Jim…, Mary…, why are you here?”
Well, Elijah had been terrorized, made uncertain of his safety and his future. As much as he had faith in God’s purposes, it was important to check God out. For this he did as you and I often do, he relied on past patterns of communion and could only have felt crest fallen not to discover the Presence he anticipated! Things haven’t changed.
That’s why silence then, and silence now, is so important. Not silence that is quiet. Not the kind of silence that greets us in an empty room. Not silence that is devoid of sound, but the kind of silence that has within it a question. But even here, the question may have changed. For Elijah it was, “Why are you here?” But whatever the question I am confident that it addresses me, and you, wholly as we are frozen by our terrors and apprehensive in our timid hopes. I am confident that it includes our Lord as one who knew terror on a Friday morning and allowed hopes no longer to be timid on an Easter night.
We are all looking for Shalom.
Copyright © 2001 James T. Irvine