Opening the Word: 'A light silent sound’

In the summer, my neighborhood in northern Indiana once again becomes populated with human beings.

Locked in the chill of winter, we rush into our homes to escape the various forms of frozen precipitation that assault our bodies. But as summer dawns, we again spend time with neighbors late into the night, enjoying the early dusk breeze.

While the gift of a summer breeze may allow me to express gratitude to God for the created order (and the happy conclusion of winter), I wouldn’t imagine that such a light breeze would be fitting for the Lord of heaven and earth.

Like Elijah, I could see myself longing for the divine Word to speak through the strong and heavy wind, a powerful earthquake that brings creation itself to its knees and a fire that burns without consuming. This is the kind of God that I’d expect.

“[A]fter the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kgs 19:13).

Often, we hear this passage as evidence that God prefers to make the divine presence known through a “light silent sound.”

Yet, such a claim comes into conflict with other aspects of the Scriptures. After all God appears to Moses in the Book of Exodus through a burning bush (Ex 3). The earth is shaken, the saints rise from the dead, and the veil of the temple is torn in two when Our Lord Jesus Christ dies on the cross in the Gospel of Matthew.

It’s not that God avoids the use of power in addressing the disciples. Rather, it’s that God is not just the Lord of the powerful signs, the grand manifestations. God is Lord of all creation.

Jesus shows his power as the Lord of heaven and earth in his appearance to the disciples: “During the fourth watch of the night, [Jesus] came toward them, walking on the sea” (Mt 14:25).

The chaos of darkness, of the unknown waters, is conquered by Jesus Christ, who treads upon the waves as if they were a well-paved highway.

The disciples call out to this ghostly figure walking upon the waters. Peter demands a sign, seemingly afraid to recognize Jesus as Lord of heaven and earth: “‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water’” (Mt 14:28).

At first Peter also conquers the sea. But as he gazes up at the terrifying waves, he doubts and sinks into the sea. He is rescued by Our Lord, who exercises dominion over the seas. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the one who should be worshipped, as the Word that ordered the heavens.

The Word that restores order to the chaos of sin and death.

Our Lord is constantly making his presence known in our lives. But too often we are distracted by what we expect this presence to be.

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By recognizing that God is the Lord of heaven and earth, the God who reveals himself in the smallest whisper and in conquering the churning seas, we profess that no aspect of creation is free from God’s power.

The God of creation gives the summer breeze as a gift to delight our hearts. The God of creation controls the frosty winds that buffet my home in the winter. And the God of creation enters into my joys and sorrows, transforming them into a space to encounter the presence of God.

After all, Jesus Christ is the Lord of all creation.

Not just the part I expect.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.