Posted by: Thomas Richard | June 24, 2016

Seeking the “Still Small Voice” of God

God said to Elijah,

“Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks 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 still small voice.

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

(1 Kings 19:11-13)

It is an unmistakable and precious moment – a timeless moment – to be in the Presence of God.  Such encounters are so precious, that one could say they are essential.  How can a man or a woman keep sane, in this increasingly insane world, without moments – or at least memories – of communion with the One who is truth and reason, stability and sanity, faithful and strong, undying, eternal.

Elijah was given a moment of encounter with the Lord in a “still small voice” – and specifically not in a great wind, or an earthquake, or a fire – all events of power and dramatic significance.  Only in the humble whisper that demands alertness, attentiveness, inner quiet and focus: there was the Lord waiting to meet with Elijah.

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of “making a retreat” – a time apart, a time dedicated to openness to the Lord, a time for prayer, meditation, silence, solitude, peace.  It is a time for saying “Here I am, Lord, speak to your servant.  Here I am, Lord: what would you have me do?”  It is sad, but it is understandable, that human persons would not want to offer themselves to the will of the Lord in that way!  It is sad, but understandable, that given the choice between Martha who kept herself busy and distracted, and Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to His word (see Lk 10:38-42), that many would rather turn to preoccupation and busyness than offer themselves “blindly” to the service of the Lord!  Who knows what He might ask of us?  Who knows what that might cost?  It might cost our very lives.

I was in my thirties when I made my first retreat.  It was a 45 day directed retreat, “directed” meaning directed by a retreat master who provided daily presentations on the retreat theme, and as a priest also offered daily Mass and Confessions, as well as personal conferences if desired to discuss matters of spiritual concern.  The theme of the retreat was the Gospel of John, and the length of the retreat allowed a slow and deliberate journey through that Gospel, listening carefully and prayerfully to what the Holy Spirit inspired John to write, for our salvation.  It was a wonderful, truly beautiful experience.

The first thing I learned, which was a surprise to me, was the length of time it took me to “slow down” and begin to actually listen to the Lord in His Gospel!  The retreat was held in an elegant beach-front – well, I would call it a “mansion.”  Now a retreat house, it had been willed by a wealthy family, donated to a religious order of sisters.  It was a beautiful place for quiet and prayer – well-separated from the world of noise and busyness – here we could find the silence and solitude needed to listen to and be attentive to the movements and directions of the Lord.  But to my surprise, after about four days, I noticed a change in myself: I had slowed down within myself; I had become quiet within myself; I had entered a space of solitude – separation from the other retreatants and retreat leaders and helpers – even though they were all around.  In a mansion on the beach, in the midst of 35 or 40 people, I had become alone.  This was not intentional!  It happened; it was given to me; it was a surprise gift that I did not know I needed or wanted.  I did not know I lacked it before it was given, but when I received it, I knew clearly the difference in me and the treasure that it was.  I was alone, and I was ready to be with myself, with God, with Truth.

This was the beginning of the retreat, four days into it.  Desert-time had come.  Prayer-time had begun.  The first lesson I needed to learn, was now dawning on me: I had not known what solitude and silence were; I had not known how busy and noisy I had been in myself!  Now I knew, because God showed me.  Now I could listen for Him; now I could listen to Him.

Here is the point of this blog: please, brothers and sisters, do not underestimate the immense value of silence, solitude and prayer.  Do not underestimate the cost of it!  In the beginning, it can take days – days in it, to arrive at it and willingly enter into it!  A fish does not know of the water he lives in; we do not realize the conflict and chaos that surrounds us, nor perhaps do we suspect how much of it, and how deeply, it has permeated our very souls.  We need to value silence, simplicity, solitude, prayer: listening for Him and for His life-giving words.  Once we have learned the treasure of it, we will not resist or fight against it so much.  It need not take four days, the next time.  The next time, we may even hasten to meet it, and to meet Him.  The time after that, no stranger any more to silence, simplicity, solitude and prayer, we may find it within ourselves, waiting within us for us to remember, and return, and maybe even remain as if home.  We have there found Him; we have found love; we have found truth.

In that sacred place, that holy encounter, we have found our true home.  In Him, with Him, we have all.  He is faithful, and will never abandon His own.  He will always be there, waiting.  “Seek Him!” He urges us to ask, and seek, and knock: He will respond, He will reveal Himself in holy prayer.  It is there, with Him and in Him, that we discover and begin to live the interior life.

St. Faustina wrote beautifully of this sacred place, where our Lord waits.

Although outwardly I meet with many sufferings and various adversities, this does not, however, lessen my interior life for a moment nor disturb my inner silence.  I do not fear at all being abandoned by creatures because, even if all abandoned me, I would not be alone, for the Lord is with me.  And even if the Lord were to hide, love will know how to find Him.  For love knows no gates nor guards; …; it will work its way through wilderness and scorching heat, through storm, thunder and darkness, and reach the source from which it came, and there it will endure forever.  All things will come to an end; but love, never.

(St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Diary, Notebook III, #1022)


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks so much for this blog entry on the necessity of an interior life. In today’s world of confusion and busyness how we all need to seek God’s “still small voice”!

    Sharing your own experience helps us to identify more closely with Jesus’ words to Martha in Luke 10: 41-42:

    “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

    St. Faustina’s words reinforce the beauty of God’s Will for all of us to seek and find in Him, all we need.

  2. Dear Thomas,

    “In that sacred place, that holy encounter, we have found our true home. In Him, with Him, we have all. He is faithful, and will never abandon His own. He will always be there, waiting. “Seek Him!” He urges us to ask, and seek, and knock: He will respond, He will reveal Himself in holy prayer. It is there, with Him and in Him, that we discover and begin to live the interior life.”

    Thanks for the encouraging words. In today’s craziness, I don’t want to be anywhere BUT our True Home!

  3. God said to Elijah,

    “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks 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 still small voice.

    And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

    I’ve very much had this experience, too–when I did the 30 Day Ignatian retreat. What a gift, and what a challenge.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dcn Chris. An authentic, personal encounter with the Lord in prayer is certainly a gift! And I would imagine, always a “challenge” as well.


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