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Knowing that the first reading might leave a misimpression, the Church has given us a Gospel to make sure we don’t get the wrong idea. Or perhaps it is the other way around.
In the first reading this Sunday (the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A), Elijah is sheltering in a cave when he is told God is passing by. A strong and heavy wind comes, but God isn’t in that. He isn’t in the earthquake or the fire that follow, either.
Instead, he is in a “tiny whispering sound.”
It is tempting to hear this Gospel and decide that God is in the calm and quiet of our everyday lives, not the dramatic events where we often look for him. We should not insist that God knock us off our horse; instead, we should listen for his quiet whisper.
But if that is true, what can we say about the Gospel? In the Gospel, the Apostles don’t find the Lord in a whisper. They find him in a storm.
First, they take leave of Jesus and head across the lake. Then, at night, a heavy storm hits them. They fight it most of the night, but then between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. — “the fourth watch of the night” — the Lord comes walking to them across the water. They are terrified, but he says not to fear. Peter walks across the stormy waters toward the Lord, who saves him when he starts to sink.
So which is it? Is God in the quiet whispers, or out there walking on the swells of water as the wind howls around him?
The answer: Both.
Don’t forget all the details of that first reading: Before he came to Elijah in a whisper, God sent a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire. Elijah knew to look for the Lord not in the chaos of life, but in the calm that comes despite the chaos. Peter, meanwhile, sank because he stopped focusing on the steady figure of the Lord and looked to the storm, instead.
The truth is, God is a special case. He is not on the surface of things; he is the bedrock of reality. He is not part of the disorder of the ever-changing world that swirls around us; he is the fundamental truth that does not change.
We are so much smaller than God, and our world is so limited, that when we search for God it is not like looking fora needle in a Kansas haystack; it’s like trying to find Kansas in a haystack. We are looking for something that is so large that it is the context in which all those other things exist.
The way to do it is clear in the readings: God is there in your life, walking by in the storm, and whispering after the earthquakes. To hear him you have to give up on the stress and anxiety, quiet yourself and listen.
Try it. When things are going all wrong, when you are arguing or angry or lost, pray: “Come Holy Spirit, show us how you are here.” Or the next time work becomes a chaos of stress, pray: “Lord, let me find you underneath it all.”
If you are experiencing a storm, or the quiet after the storm, you can be assured that, beneath it all, above it all, and around it all, he is there.