| posted 7/24/2012
Hearing and obeying. Always hearing and obeying.
Beyond Earthquake, Wind, and Fire
Elijah and his shattering experience in the cave at Mount Horeb might become for us something of a paradigm for meditation. A metaphor for listening prayer, if you will. You may remember the story recorded for us in 1 Kings 18 and 19. How Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. How Jezebel sought to kill him. How Elijah ran for his life. How, exhausted and frozen with fear, Elijah asked for death under the broom tree: "I have had enough, Lord, … take my life" (1 Kings 19:4). How the angel of the Lord touched Elijah and gave him a hearty breakfast … twice. How on the strength of those meals he journeyed forty days and forty nights until at last he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And how he entered a cave and spent the night there … desolate, lonely, defeated.
You know, sometimes the pressures of my own life crowd in and I want to cry out, "Move over, Elijah. Let me crawl into your cave with you." Perhaps you too have known times of discouragement and depression and have wanted to join Elijah in his cave. Mount Horeb's cave is a place of despair, desolation, and dejection.
But now we will see why Elijah's story on Mount Horeb is a metaphor for meditative prayer. God coaxes Elijah out of his cave of depression and onto the mountaintop: "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by" (1 Kings 19:11). Those words, "the Lord is about to pass by," call to mind another mountain—Sinai—where in dramatic fashion God met with Moses and gave him what we today call the Ten Commandments. We remember the story well, of course … and so did Elijah. The burning bush. The tablets of stone cut by the finger of God. The fangs of lightning. Boulders split apart. Trees reduced to embers. Roaring winds and deafening thunder rolling out across the canyons.
Then we remember—and so did Elijah—how Moses hid in the cleft of the rock as the Lord God, the Almighty, passed by in a heart-stopping display of divine glory. And now, here on Mount Horeb, God is about to pass by Elijah. On Sinai, God's presence came forth in a massive display of natural phenomena. On Horeb there were also ferocious winds, shattering earthquakes, and scorching fires, but God was not in any of those things. This must have been a shock to Elijah. Nothing of God was in the earthquake, wind, or fire. It was only after all of nature's fireworks passed away and there was perfect stillness that God came to Elijah in a still small Voice, in the divine Whisper, in "a sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19:12 NRS). The Lord speaks to Elijah not in the ferociousness of nature but in silence, in "the soft whisper of a voice" (1 Kings 19:12 TEV).
On the mountaintop, Elijah stands in utter humility before God. His humility flows from the desperation seen in his terror of Jezebel and his own desire to die. And it is in that humility of heart that Elijah heard the word of the Lord. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote: