Readings (Year A):
Reflection: Remain open to the new story
Most of us are quite familiar with the story of the “still small voice,” but knowing the context of this vignette makes the story all the richer.
Elijah believes he is the only one left. The only one who is doing things right, who is on the right side, who is fighting the good fight. And Elijah is tired. More than tired, he is a wanted man. So Elijah runs away to the south. And he journeys all the way up Mount Horeb and retreats to a cave.
This is the same spot where Moses received the ten commandments. God is there and asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”
In the answer, we discover the depth of Elijah’s weariness. Elijah goes on about how he has done his absolute best to tell the people how to follow the one true God, but the community is disobedient, folks are worshiping false gods, and now Jezebel is out to kill him. Elijah is done.
And God says: Go outside. Go outside and stand on the mountain where I will pass by.
But Elijah doesn’t go outside.
If we read the story carefully, the narrator’s attention shifts to all the happenings outside. There is a huge wind storm. There is an earthquake, then a fire.
And then—there is a small whispering sound. At the occurrence of this sheer silence, that is when Elijah covers his face and goes to stand at the entrance of the cave.
Then God asks again: What are you doing here?
One would think Elijah had had some large epiphany during all the commotion, being on Mount Horeb and all. But no. The writer of the story places the exact same words in the mouth of Elijah in response to God: He’s done his best, he says, but the community is disobedient, folks are worshiping false gods, and now Jezebel is out to kill him.
So, wait. Elijah travels for 40 days and 40 nights with one story running through his mind: I’m a failure. The mission is a failure. He gets to the top of the holiest mountain, lives through a windstorm, an earthquake, a fire, and then a sheer silence. And then God asks him again, “Why are you here?”
And Elijah is still telling the same old story! All due respect to Elijah, but maybe he’s not the one to pay attention to in this case. Instead, let’s turn our attention to God, who says to Elijah: Go back, anoint new leaders. And—most significantly—God says: I have reserved 7,000 people who are still with me. They have not bowed to false prophets. They are still here for me and my mission. You, Elijah, are not the only one. You are not a failure, and my mission is not a failure. You keep telling yourself one story, but I am here to tell you another story, a bigger story.
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ve got some areas in my life where I’m telling myself the same story. And perhaps there is another voice, one that comes in a sheer silence, who has a different story to offer? Let us remain open to that new story.