The Sound of Sheer Silence — and Merton Meets Elijah (A Progressive Christian Lectionary Commentary on 1 Kings 19 for Sunday, August 7)

The Sound of Sheer Silence — and Merton Meets Elijah (A Progressive Christian Lectionary Commentary on 1 Kings 19 for Sunday, August 7) July 29, 2011

Whenever I hear commentators blaming natural disasters on God’s punishment for human sin (most typically on sexual sins like homosexuality, adultery, divorce, pre-marital sex, or abortion), this week’s Hebrew Scripture lesson from 1 Kings 19 comes to mind. We read in verses 11 and 12 that God is “not in the wind” of the hurricanes like Katrina which struck New Orleans. Similarly, God was “not in the earthquake” (or the tsunami) such as that which struck Japan back in April, just as God was “not in the fire” such as those which blazed through the southwest earlier this summer — at least God was not in any of those events in the sense of the simpleminded theology that attributes destruction to divine vindictiveness.  However, we learn paradoxically at the end of verse 12 that God is fully, abundantly, and mysteriously present in the “sound of sheer silence.” And if we can silence, if only for a few moments, all those other voices emerging from the whirlwind of our daily lives (the voices of the newspaper, the radio, the television – the voices of the Internet, co-workers, and others) then we might begin to hear the voice of God that within us, with us, and beyond us in the sound of sheer silence.

Application: Practicing the Sacrament of Silence

At the end of this sermon, there will be a minute of silence.  I invite you to use that time to listen gently for how God might be calling you today in regard to the concerns of those people and situations for which you prayed earlier during our time of prayer for the world.

As a way of transitioning into this time of listening silently for God, I invite you to hear the words of Thomas Merton, the twentieth-century Trappist monk from Kentucky.  If you are comfortable, I invite you to close your eyes as you listen to these words.  I will repeat it once, and then you will have another minute to listen contemplatively to God in silence.  Merton writes:

It is precisely because I believe that “we are not alone” that I find hope even in this most desperate situation.  We do not have to transcend ourselves in the sense of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  We have, rather, to respond to the mysterious grace of a Spirit which is infinitely greater than our own.

It is precisely because I believe

that “we are not alone”

that I find hope

even in this most desperate situation.

We do not have to transcend ourselves

in the sense of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

We have, rather, to respond to the mysterious grace of a Spirit

which is infinitely greater than our own.

Notes

The quote is from Thomas Merton, “Final Integration,” in Conversion: Perspective on Personal and Social Transformation,” edited by Walter E. Conn (Alba House: New York, 1978), 271-272.


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