Back in the early 2000s my wife, Sue, and myself were fortunate enough to spend some leisure time in gorgeous Washington state, and among many the other sites we visited was the majestic Mt. St. Helens.
This memory came to mind when I realized that today’s date, March 27, is the anniversary of the 1980 reactivation of the volcano that erupted three months later. It stands as the largest, deadliest and most expensive volcanic eruption in the contiguous United States in history.
Standing on the grounds of the observatory center safely 12 miles away, one could not but help wondering what a sight the 1,300-degree pyroclastic surge racing down the mountainside and across the valley at the speed of sound, a volume of ash that removed 1,300 feet of the mountain and deposited it over 22 square miles and a plume of smoke, ash and rocks that reached 80,000 feet must have been.
There are Bible scholars who feel that it was something similar that the prophet Elijah on Mt. Horeb beheld and awaited God to speak to him in the wind, earthquake and fire. But the Scripture makes it clear that God was not in the earthquake, wind or fire. However, the Lord did communicate to the prophet in what most translations render as a “still, small voice.”
(My rabbi friends tease me about that last bit of information in Christian translations. Jewish culture has a different understanding of sound in general and words in particular. Sound is almost sacred because they hold that it can be perceived by the other senses. That is why the name of God is never to be used lightly, only most respectively and even then exceedingly rarely. The Hebrew words that we read as “still, small voice” more accurately should be “whispering voice, thin voice, thin silence, sheer silence or even utter silence.”)
In a day and time when most church services are filled with blasting pipe organ music, blaring trumpets, amplified guitars and crashing drums as well as preachers shouting incoherently into microphones, perhaps we are becoming insensitive to God’s words when he speaks in a tone more like a mother cooing her infant to sleep or soothing her child from the worries of a troubled world.
In the 1970s, a pastor friend of mine sought my counsel concerning his congregation’s order of service. Immediately before a time of prayer in the worship service, he had included a “Moment of Meditation,” one minute of silence. To his consternation, many of his congregants did not like it and wanted it removed. To them it was unnerving and they thought 60 seconds of quiet was a waste of time.
For all the talking to God that we call prayer, is it possible that we are losing the ability to listen for the Lord to speak to us? To offer guidance and counsel and reassurance?
Other loving admonitions begin to step to the forefront. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked ... but on His law he meditates day and night.”
“He leads me beside the still waters; He nourishes my soul.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”
What might God be trying to convey to you this very day?