Listening for God: Some Reflections on Meditation
I would be lying if I said that meditation came easily to me. I am a person, like most in my generation (and I would venture to say most in our modern world), who is easily distracted. It doesn’t take much to throw my mental balance off, especially when my goal is to empty my mind. I do well for a few minutes, and then a scattershot of thoughts erupt back into my head before I have a chance to realize its even happening.
Part of the problem is that we have taught ourselves that we need to be always “on.” There is no time for rest. If we are resting, we are not being useful. If we are not being useful, then what are we doing? We are always looking to keep things moving, to accomplish the next big thing, to look for problems and solutions to those problems at all times.
There is a very touching story that comes from the book of 1 Kings. Most of us are likely familiar with the preceding story: Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a prophetic duel, for lack of a better term, in order to prove which of their gods is truly the one true god. They prepare two altars, and the priests of Baal perform ritual after ritual beseeching their god to light the pyre of their altar, to no avail. Elijah, after dousing his pyre in buckets of water, says a short prayer to Yahweh, who then engulfs the altar immediately.
But after this, things go south for Elijah. He is chased away, and assured that he will be hunted to death. Eventually, he finds himself at Mount Horeb (also known to us at Mount Sinai, the mountain where Moses and the Israelites sealed their covenant with God). At Mount Horeb, Elijah has this encounter:
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah likely thought that God would be in the earthquake, or in then fire. After all, he was coming from a moment in time where God has spectacularly proven his supremacy with a monumental display of power—and yet, God is not found in these displays of power this time. This time, God is found in a gentle wind.
Elijah was waiting for God to push things forward—to continue the mission. To find the solutions to problems. A great earthquake or a raging fire had all the power that was needed to solve Elijah’s immediate issues. And yet, God chose to whisper softly to the prophet. We wanted Elijah to come closer to the whisper, to the mouth of the cave and to listen.
That listening is what meditation calls us to. And if we can give in to it, God may have some wonderful things to say.