A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing 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 there was fire-but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. (I Kings 19:11-12)
The “tiny whispering sound” is the way the Lord will come to us, in whispers. If we listen, we can hear His voice. In lectio divina (sacred reading), we read a line of Scripture and reflect on God’s invitation to listen to his Word. Fundamental to this practice is silence. The body is still, the mind is quiet, limited to turning over the scriptural word or words until we let go of all words and enjoy resting silently in the presence of God. Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation, says prayer usually begins as petition but ends in the wordless contemplation of God, who is beyond all language and knowing.
The Gospels contain numerous variations on this imperative to pay attention. The repeated use of Behold seems to be a call to stop and listen: something important is about to happen. The Rule of St. Benedict begins with the word Listen! The way to make listening prayerful is to let go of self and be aware of God. Many people beginning their exposure to this type of prayer see silence as emptiness or absence; in fact, the silence evokes presence. Words don’t last but silence does. Sacred silence is active. Our attention to the silence, our awareness of it, makes it prayerful.
One way to define prayer is to think of it as total attention. We give up our ego for a time, losing ourselves and resting in God. Our silent attention to God is an act of love; God’s silent presence with us is an ever more beautiful act of love. Prayer is much more than asking God for help with problems; it is about asking to be in God’s presence by being fully aware of the here and now. The most rewarding and powerful way of praying is simply listening to the gentle whisper of God that Elijah heard.
God speaks to us every day. To hear his voice, we have to climb out of the darkness of our tightly scheduled lives and silently enter into the light of God’s present reality. Since the voice of God comes in unexpected ways that don’t always involve words, we have to be open to it. kvs