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11 Pentecost, Year A: Anechoic Chamber

11 Pentecost, August 13

Gen. 37:1-4, 12-28 or 1 Kgs. 19:9-18
Ps. 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b or Ps. 85: 8-13
Rom. 10:5-15Matt. 14:22-33

The voice of the Lord is “powerful,” “full of majesty,” speaking night and day in the sublime wonders of a tumultuous creation. The voice of the Lord moves over the mighty waters, breaks the cedar trees, flashes forth like flames of fire, shakes the wilderness, causes the oaks to writhe, and strips the forest bare. God sits enthroned, causing everything to be and to tremble, and yet we dare to pray, “May the Lord bless his people with peace” (Ps. 29). The God of majesty and wonder is no less the God of gentleness and quiet.

“It is Your Face, O Lord, that I seek” | Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr

Today, we ponder and hold before our attention God as the One who is silent.

Elijah has won a great victory over the prophets of Baal in a contest involving deafening noise. As if pitting two gods against each other, Elijah proposes a test in which each god is invoked to consume a sacrifice. The prophets of Baal cry out to their god, wail, and cut themselves, but their god does nothing. Elijah then calls out to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The response is instant and dramatic. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kgs. 18:38). “Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there” (1 Kgs. 18:40).

Queen Jezebel, hearing of the attack against her prophets, vows revenge. “Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow’” (1 Kgs. 19:2). Religion is often a violent and loud contest of conflicting allegiances.

There is, however, another aspect, another way of relating to God. Fearing for his life, Elijah runs to the wilderness, sits under a broom tree, and broods about suicide. The Lord speaks to him after a great storm, not during the storm, but in the stillness that follows. “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting the mountains and breaking the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kgs. 19:11-12). In the presence of stillness, “Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle” as Moses once did before a burning bush. God is an all-consuming silence, the hidden ground of perfect peace.

In this mortal life, we will always contend against storms. Like the disciples out upon the sea, we feel the battering waves and sense that we are far from the security of land. To us, the Lord comes, walking on the sea. Indeed, he invites us to step out upon the deep. Seeing the waves, we lose heart and begin falling into the abyss. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught [Peter]” (Matt. 14:31), just as, even now, he is catching us. As Jesus and Peter step back into the boat, suddenly the wind ceases, and a great silence falls over the water and seeps into every fearful soul.

St. Ignatius of Antioch taught and, indeed, is still teaching that a true disciple of Christ can hear the silence of Jesus and bear that silence into the world. This is not a silence of mere absence, but rich and full of presence.

Look It Up: Matthew 14:27

Think About It: “It is I,” the God of silence.


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