11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13
It's been a whirlwind of a weekend. In the Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, we celebrated the ministry of our retiring Bishop Mauney and began our meetings on Friday with around seventy nominees to become our next bishop. By Sunday morning, we elected Bob Humphrey, pastor of Muhlenberg Lutheran in Harrisonburg, VA. As soon as Bob's first speech as our Bishop-elect was over, I skidded down the road to Fuqauy Varina United Methodist Church that afternoon. After spending the evening with some classmates from our time at Duke Divinity School, Bobby and Amanda Rackley, along with their six month old son Josiah. I took off early Monday morning to drive to Landsdowne, VA. There I spent the afternoon with my three year old niece Charlie, four year old nephew Ben, and sister-in-law Michelle while they were visiting Michelle's family outside of D.C. It was wonderful to see God's work in our church, in friends, and in family.
In the midst of those chaotic times when our pace and direction changes frequently, it's difficult to remember that God's also active in the silence of our lives. Spending time in work, worship, and celebration with nearly 1,000 people throughout the weekend at the synod event is exciting, but God's no more present there than in the fifteen hours I spent in the car driving from Virginia's Appalachia to the North Carolina Piedmont to the edges of our nations capital and back home again to another part of Appalachia. God's no more present in a full worship service celebrating the vocations of students who soon head to college, work, or service than in the down time at a friend's house with a cold drink paloma (tequila, lime juice, and grapefruit soda like Squirt or Fresca) and meaningful conversation about what God's up to in our lives. God's present both in the gleeful shots of nieces and nephews when you first arrive and in the silent cuddles as they watch Paw Patrol.
I tend to look for God in the flashy experiences, but the problem with that is I can miss the presence of God in the normalcy of my life. While I was driving up I-95 and down I-81, I listened to various parts of my iPhone's music catalog, which includes a handful of albums from Mayday Parade. One song in particular caught my attention in ways that it hadn't before, despite nearly a decade of listening. It's called, "The Silence." You can listen below, but here's the gist of the story: a woman's disappointed about a broken relationship and cries out for the return of her lover. Yet, the tag to the chorus is, "and the silence will set her free."
Now, this is an incredibly loose association to the story above from 1 Kings, but for the first time, I heard the song as one of liberation and life rather than solely lament. The silence wasn't the absence of what she needed. Rather, she found her freedom despite looking for deliverance in another form, namely a response from the now absent paramour. It wasn't in a flashy, fictional, RomCom reunion, but in the profound realization that her value, integrity, identity was still presence even in the silence, even absent what she'd come to identify as the important presence in her life.
I'm much the same way. Silence is often the most liberating part of my life, whether through meditation and prayer or rest and awareness of my surroundings. Though I look for God's presence in the flashy portions of life, I'm even more exhausted by the barrage exposure to the demands of work, the desired pastoral appearances at various functions, and the simple realities of life like swimming against the current of humanity at the grocery store. In those moments, silence becomes the active presence of God, who offers a word of comfort that, even if the job isn't perfect, God desires to be with us. Even if we can't meet every expectation placed onto us by others, God still favors us. Even when we're overwhelmed by sensory stimuli and the sheer mass of people, God remains patiently supporting us, not shouting at us or cutting us off in the international foods aisle but whispering, wooing, that we might realize our sufficiency not in the flashy, fiery, resounding realms of life, but in those moments of sheer silence, when the only one we know is the only one we need.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.