God’s surprising means of communication in fearful times

By happy accident, or providence, the Old Testament reading at Mass on my first full day of vacation this month was a perfect fit, and it’s one of my favorites. 

In the reading from 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah goes up Mount Horeb to encounter God. And a surprising thing happens: 

“A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD — but the LORD was not in the wind. 

“After the wind there was an earthquake — but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 

“After the earthquake there was fire — but the LORD was not in the fire. 

“After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. 

“When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.” 

Elijah knew God’s presence in “a tiny whispering sound.” All the drama of high wind, thundering earthquake and blazing fire seems to have served only as a way for God to get Elijah’s attention so that he wouldn’t miss that “tiny whispering sound.” 

Something similar happens in the Gospel reading that same day, from Matthew’s account of Peter’s faltering after taking a few steps across stormy waters toward Jesus. The disciples were terrified of the high winds and huge waves that apparently had been tossing their boat for many hours that night. Their fear vaults to new levels when they see what they think is a ghost coming toward them. 

And strong buffeting wind is what makes Peter take fright after a few successful steps toward Jesus across the water. 

But the dramatic show of elements seems to have been a way for God to get the attention of Peter and the other disciples to underscore the fundamental importance of simple, unshakable faith and confidence in Jesus. “Take courage [and] do not be afraid!” 

As I sit here typing this in a public library in a quaint town in western Illinois, a news alert on my cellphone informs me that the stock market plummeted 600 points today — a sign that fear is alive and well. Elsewhere today, it turns out the Taliban are responsible for shooting down a NATO helicopter in Afghanistan, killing dozens of the most highly trained soldiers in the U.S. military. Tens of thousands of children are dying under our eyes in east Africa, and the world somehow seems powerless to do much about it. 

But these dramatic events can help wake us up to the importance of two things: placing unshakable trust in God; and taking time and energy to listen for the “tiny whispering sound” of God communicating to us through the events of our life. 

I’m happy to have that reminder at the start of a couple of days away from my routine, surrounded by family and close friends in a relaxed rural setting. I’ll also be asking God to keep watch over OSV readers and their families. 

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