There was this prophet who had an emotional breakdown. After this series of crazy conflicts and amazing miracles, he fell apart. First he was filled with fear. Then he grew suicidal.
The bible says that the angels took care of him. He goes through this period of sleeping, then eating, then sleeping and then eating. After this time, the angel’s food carried him through a forty day pilgrimage to a mountain where he would meet God.
At this mountain, he enters a cave where his world is rocked by a series of special effects. Mountains break apart, fires erupt, earthquakes commence. After each of these, comes the phrase: “But the LORD was not in this.”
Then comes a silence. My meditation-loving, contemplative self wants the bible to say, “And God was there, in that silence.”
But it doesn’t.
It does say that he talked to God after, though. He went out of the cave and he heard God.
There are three messages in all this.
The first is that after a trauma, we need some pretty basic things. Things like food and rest. If we don’t get these primary needs met, we are not ready to hear God.
The second is that sitting in silence prepares us to hear God. Despite what I might want silence to be and mean, at least some of the time, silence isn’t the place where God speaks to us. On one level this is so obvious: the point at which God speaks is the point at which we are no longer in silence at all.
The third thing is the most difficult for me to pin down. But there is an interesting transition in this story. Because near the beginning, when all the wild things are happening on the outside, the bible is crystal clear: God is not there. And at the end of the story, when God is speaking, God, of course, very much is there.
But in that between-time, that time after the fire but before he hears the voice of God… it is up for debate: Is God there? Is God present in the silence?
It seems important to me that this is up for debate, ambiguous. In our times of silence, we simply do not know. We might believe. We might hope. We might have faith. We might have memories of all the times he has shown up after those profound silences. But none of these things are quite the same as knowing.
I have a sense that this journey is universal. Every time I sit, I must first tend to the immediate wounds and struggles of my life. Even if things are going pretty well. Even if it only takes a few seconds. There is a process of letting go of my fears and concerns. I don’t see how I could do this alone. In some sense, the angels nourish me, at this time.
After this, when I meditate, what comes next is a pilgrimage of my own. My journey does not take 40 days. But just as it went in the story: this part can feel the longest and the most uneventful. The journey ends in a holy place. Then the thunder and lightning from my life might attempt to reassert themselves. I must, with the prophet, remind myself: God is not in these things.
When it goes well, then next comes this time of silence. A time of not-knowing where God is, but a time that is precious nonetheless.
And when it goes really well… Sometimes… just sometimes, I hear God’s after.