WHISPERS FROM A CAVE

One of my favorite Scripture passages is the one where God tells a frightened Elijah the Prophet to go to a cave and He will pass by. This passage has great importance for contemplative practice. We listen to God with the ear of our heart, as St. Benedict tells us in the Prologue to his Rule. In I Kings, 19, Elijah describes his situation as he waits for the Lords to come: “11c Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;* the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;12after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.”

It is in the elegant simplicity of a whisper, barely audible, that God speaks to Elijah. During this Lenten season, we might think all God has to do is wait for us to call and he will come at our beckoning.

My own expectations are often that I take time out of my busy schedule to make a holy hour or read Liturgy of the Hours, and I think that satisfies God. As I seek God every day, I look for him in the signs of a chapel’s majesty or before the Blessed Sacrament when I practice penance by praying the Scriptures, but he is not there. I try to follow my Lay Cistercian practices in silence and solitude by doing Lectio Divina diligently, but he is not there. With humility and obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit, I ask God where he is and why it is so difficult for me to hear him? What is wrong with you, God? No answer. I find myself alone, sitting on a park bench, rather ruffled that God is not passing by as He had said he would. There is a deep cold in the woods, and snow covers the landscape. No sounds. No birds chirping. The wind picks up, and I feel its icy breath on my face and tighten my scarf around my face so my eyeballs won’t freeze. I think that I must be absolutely crazy to think that God would tell me he would be here and then not show up, He who is present to all reality from before there was time. Faintly, competing with the sound of the wind is a word, ever so soft and delicate. I hear the word, Michael. I focus on this sound, and I can hear it only in the innermost silence of my heart. “Michael, where were you? I was afraid you would not stop by to see me?” “Jesus, is that you?” I say. “Of course,” says Jesus, ” I have been since before there was time. I have been waiting for you to show up.” I think of St. Thomas and how embarrassed he must have been when Jesus told him to stick his fingers in the wounds in his hands and side. All he could say and all I can say is My Lord and My God. During Lent, I realize that I must practice waiting for my heart to slow down to be able to listen with the ear of my heart to the real presence of Christ next to me. I must re-convert my false self, again and again, to listen and keep my mouth shut so that I can hear the whispers that come to my heart.

The following passage is that of Elijah, one to prefigure Christ. Read it three times as your Lenten reading, even though it is lengthy. The first time, read it through as you would normally do. Next time, pick out one idea that sticks out in your mind. The third time, read it asking the Holy Spirit to elaborate on how this one idea of yours can help you listen with the ear of your heart to the faint whispering of Christ.

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