The author of 1 Kings does not mean for us to assume that God is not present in the chaotic moments of our lives. But there does seem to be a message that such moments may not be the most optimal times for discerning how God's call is beckoning us forward.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, made a similar point when he suggested that moments of crisis are not the best times for making important decisions. For example, when a marriage hits a rough spot, the temptation to bail out can be powerful. But Ignatius would counsel patience precisely at such a time. Wait until things have calmed down, and then listen for the voice of God. Careful spiritual discernment should be about mindfully weighing options, not putting out fires (or surviving storms and earthquakes).

What's interesting about the story of Elijah and the sound of sheer silence is that Elijah had a conversation with God when he first arrived on the mountain. And then, after the wind and fire and the silence, he and God have pretty much the exact same exchange. There is some grist for discernment there as well: God's deep stability is not easily swayed, not by storms or quakes or conflagration. The silence not only empowered Elijah to listen for the word of God, but it enabled him to hear something he already knew.

This silence—that can bring us to the place where we can hear God—is always available to us. It rests after every storm, earthquake, and fire. Indeed, this silence opens up between each and every thought that will ever dance across your mind. The voice of God might come to us as a still small voice, or it might be the equivalent of the fabled "heavenly two-by-four" that God will use if we are particularly resistant to God's leading. But no matter how subtle or insistent the voice of God might be, it always emerges out of the sound of sheer silence, which makes learning to listen for the silence in our lives a pretty smart idea.