I can’t hear normally right now. A nasty cold has tormented my sinuses for almost a month and has now taken up residence in my ears. For several days my left ear has not been giving my brain the usual messages. Voices on the phone sound like they are coming through a kazoo on the other side of a heavy door. I can’t hear the sound of my feet on the trail, or the wind in the trees. At the same time normal noises are painfully loud. I avoid nerve-jarring distorted noise at the level of normal conversation, and run from loud sounds that feel like a slap to the ears, yet I strain to hear the quiet things, like the little ping that tells me I have a message on my cell phone. I feel like I am shut up inside my own head (where the sound of chewing my breakfast crunchies is like giant aliens devouring some hapless metropolis in a sci-fi flick.)
What an odd and uncomfortable feeling – especially for someone whose lifestyle has focused on hearing the fine nuances of music for so many years. It’s taking its sweet time clearing up, this wretched infection, but in the meantime maybe there is something to be learned (or un-learned) even in this.
I thought about Elijah’s still small voice experience again today. After a tremendous victory on Mount Carmel in which the Lord rained down fire, and sent the rains at his request, he ran from the ugly threatening voice of the King’s wife. He ran all the way back to the place where Moses has his trumpet blast and fire on the mountain experience.
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire the sound of a low whisper [or a sound, a thin silence]
And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.(1 Kings 19, 11 -13 ESV)
I think it was straining to hear a soft voice today that reminded me of the story. When I looked up the Hebrew words describing this “still, small voice” I found it was stiller and smaller than I thought. It was still like a calm sea after a storm. It was small like a particle of dust, less than a hair’s breadth, barely perceptible — except to a prophet who recognized it.
David wrote that the voice of the Lord thunders. Sometimes we can hear Him loud and clear. Moses and the children of Israel certainly did, and it scared most of them half to death. But sometimes his voice can only be heard in thin silence.
In thin silence there are no other sounds competing for attention. No other voices playing anything-you-can-preach-I-can-preach-louder – and which then add electronic amplification.
In thin silence we are forced to lean in closer, to wait for a particle of sound, the Voice that speaks in stillness.