“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13
I have mad, crazy love for Elijah.
This is the prophet who tried so hard, who did exactly what God told him to do, with lots of noise and drama, fire falling from heaven, enemies put to death, only to see it all blow up in his face, to be left running for his life into the desert, chased by an evil queen, falling down in exhaustion and despair under a wretched little bush and crying out, "Just let me die."
I have lived that life, I have felt those feelings, I have been under that wretched little bush.
And I've had the experience that Elijah had, too, of angels sent into my life to cherish and feed me, as much as I needed, until I was ready to be back on my feet again.
I think sometimes we don't quite understand what happens to Elijah here, though, in these particular verses. And I think if we could understand what happens here, we could make some transformative connections from this ancient story for ourselves today.
Elijah's been under the broom tree, he's been cared for, he's traveled on, and now he's resting in this cave.
At a time in history when true believers were hiding in caves, it made sense to Elijah that what he needed was more thunder, more lightning, more earthquakes, more fire falling from heaven.
But the Holy One instead arrives with a gentle whisper.
At the mouth of his cave, Elijah learns the thing we all know, and so quickly forget:
The real Truth speaks in a still, small voice.
In quietness and confidence will be your strength. Isaiah 30:15
Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
Don't be afraid. Take courage. I am here. Matthew 14:27
It's no surprise that Jesus shows us that same pattern when he shows up.
His first big sermon is not a bombastic display of rhetoric about how to Make Israel Great Again.
Instead, he sits down and says, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and "The meek shall inherit the earth."
He doesn't spend his time networking with bigwigs and building his ministry platform.
Instead, he heals the sick and suffering.
He doesn't keep himself distant from the unholy or build a wall against the unclean.
Instead, he makes the undesirables his friends. He eats with them, touches them, talks with them.
Jesus displays to us what the still, small voice looks like as the Incarnate Word:
While this is all well and good, I am not writing this as a cognitive-spiritual exercise, designed to make you have bigger faith and think more holy thoughts.
There is a real-world, mind-body connection here that is absolutely transformative.
And we are DESPERATE for this today, just as desperate as Elijah was when he was running for his life with Jezebel in hot pursuit.
Here it is.
When your amygdala is revved up with fear and chaos and shouting and thunder and lightning and earthquakes, your thinking brain gets overwhelmed and turns off.
If we want to make good decisions, and have a wonderful life, we've got to get our amygdalas soothed and safe.
We can't answer "What are you doing here, my friend?" until we're quiet inside.
Here's how Dr. Dan Siegel describes that experience we've all had.
My friends, when your lid is flipped, you cannot hear the still, small voice.
Here's what I have learned over the last decade or so. When my lid is flipped, and when I can't hear the still, small voice, I will make my choices out of desperation, fear, confusion, and a desire to regain control no matter what the cost.
The fallout of that will be extremely ugly.
I speak to you as one who knows.
So these days, here is how I judge the all the voices that call out to me.
- Does this voice bring blessing to me and to others?
- Does this voice bring healing to me and to others?
- Does this voice call for connection, inclusion, affirmation, and peace?
- Does this voice rev my amygdala up so hard that my lid is flipped, and I'm panicking so badly that I can't remember which way is up?
And the way I know what's happening in my amygdala is by paying attention to what's happening in my body.
Here's how it works for me: I carry my distress all across my chest. As soon as I start to hear or read amygdala-revving voices, I can feel it in my chest. (Your body may feel things differently. Pay attention and see where your stress lives.)
When I feel that distress in my chest, it's time to intervene.
Right now, during this election cycle, it's especially important to me that I keep firm boundaries. This means I have made copious use of the "unfollow" button on social media. I have been known to remove myself from the room during the evening news and political debates.
Yoga is my bestie right now. For me, there is no better way to deal with the stress in my chest than to throw down a yoga mat and breathe my way out.
Music helps bring me back to my calm, quiet brain.
Being with my best beloveds. That heals me and makes me whole again.
Beauty. Beauty makes it better.
In those places where I'm not threatened by bombast and noise, where nobody's telling me how horrible the whole world is, and how it's all up to me to stop it and fix it, where I'm just breathing and being still, safe in Love, there, finally, I can feel the blessing and the healing and the connection and the peace.
And then there's voice of Love whispering, "Don't be afraid. Take courage. I'm here."