I want you to think for a moment. Just let go of all that is happening here and go deep into yourself and remember. Remember a time when you heard that still small voice Elijah heard so long long ago. There may have been wind and rain and fire swirling all around. You may have been frightened. Or, perhaps it was very very quiet – gazing at the sunset or sunrise when suddenly you heard that voice call you by name.
Or, maybe you never have heard that still small voice, but can remember a time when you really needed to, really wanted to, hear it calling you by name. You felt that just hearing that voice would make all the difference. And perhaps just wanting and needing to hear it was enough.
Elijah was fleeing for his life. The people did not want to hear what the prophet has to say. The king does not want to hear what the prophet needs to say. Elijah is hiding, not knowing where to turn next when suddenly he becomes aware – aware of a Presence. The Presence.
Or, the disciples are instructed to get in the boat and head over to the other side of the sea – that is to Gentile territory, enemy territory, unclean territory. Notice how diligently they are on their way, and despite the rough seas they persevere. They are rowing against the wind. How often do we feel like that? We know these guys. We are these guys!
Out of nowhere – previously, we are told, he is off alone, praying alone, getting some alone time with Abba, Father, YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus – suddenly someone approaches the boat walking on the water – the stormy water, the wind driven rough waters. It is dawn - recalling the dawn of creation when Abba-Father-YHWH’s Spirit blew across the face of the deep, dark, chaotic waters – now it seems to be a ghost. But that will come later – afterwards, after the cross and the tomb they will again suppose him to be a ghost. But it is Jesus out for a morning stroll to check in on the lads. He is there. He is with them in the midst of the storm on rough waters. They stop rowing against the wind and see that He is there.
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter walks toward him on the water. Only modern liberals ask, How can this be? As if it is a miracle. The miracle is coming to know He is there, He is here – He is with us. He is never not with us. With such knowledge we can hear His voice, we can see His presence, we can walk towards him wherever we are.
I used to have these dreams in which I was flying. I would wake up in the morning fully convinced that I had been flying, that I could, if you will, swim the breast stroke through the air with the greatest of ease. And there was the time I was sitting in the sanctuary at St. Peter’s, others were distributing communion at the rail, the rest of us were singing a communion hymn, I was sitting quietly listening to the music because one afternoon Bob Duggan had encouraged me to find ways to worship with the congregation, not just lead worship. So I was sitting there experiencing worship when all of a sudden I could hear only one small voice – it was as if someone had turned down the volume knob on the entire congregation and all I could hear was the lone voice of our youngest daughter Cerny who was sitting across from me as one of the acolytes – just her and her alone, a still, small, voice. The next day I mentioned this to my Senior Warden who stopped and said, “That’s funny, I heard that too.”
Elijah stopped running. I stopped leading worship. The disciples stopped rowing against the wind. It is not that God suddenly shows up. Meister Eckhart says, God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk.
We tend to live our lives, writes Evelyn Underhill, out of three verbs: To Want, To Have and To Do. “Craving, clutching and fussing, on the material, political, emotional, intellectual – even on the religious – plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb To Be – and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.”
(Underhill, The Spiritual Life, p.20)
The most important thing I learned in seminary, the most important thing I teach at St. Tim’s every day in every class, is how to Be. Jim Fenhagen would have us begin with the Psalm that says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then we would sit for several minutes of mindfulness meditation, centering prayer. Stopping. Listening.
We have lost the capacity to be still. Whereby, we have lost the capacity to be aware of God’s eternal Presence – that still small voice within. Every now and then it manages to pierce our busyness. When all along we simply need to be still to hear that voice and feel that presence. Stop running, stop doing, stop wanting, stop clutching, craving and fussing. Be still, and know that I am God. Listen and hear the voice which lives within of the God who lives within, the God with whom we are One. The God who is always here.
A week or so ago I was sitting on a dock on Lake Sunapee, NH. This is what I saw and learned:
Let us sit still. Let us say, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We will be quiet for a few minutes. Then we will sing our way back.
Have faith and have no fear
Be still and know that I Am God
You are mine, I am always here
Tho wind and rain will rock your boat
And you feel so all alone
Reach out your hand and I’ll be there
To lead you safely home
God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. It’s time to go home. Amen.