Sunday, Aug. 10, is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A).
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalms 85:9-14; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
Knowing that the first reading might leave a misimpression, the Church has given us a Gospel to make sure we don’t get the wrong idea. Or perhaps it is the other way around.
In today’s first reading, Elijah is sheltering in a cave when he is told God is passing by. A strong and heavy wind comes, but God isn’t in that. He isn’t in the earthquake or the fire that follows either.
He is, instead, in a “tiny, whispering sound.”
It is tempting to hear this Gospel and decide that God is in the calm and quiet of our everyday lives, not the dramatic events where we often look for him. We should not insist that God knock us off our horses, like he did for St. Paul; instead, we should listen for his quiet whisper.
But if that is true, what can we say about the Gospel?
In the Gospel, the apostles don’t find the Lord in a whisper; they find him in a storm.
First, they take leave of the Lord and head across the lake. Then, at night, a heavy storm hits. They fight it most of the night, and between 3 and 6am (“the fourth watch of the night”), the Lord comes walking to them across the water. They are terrified, but he says not to fear. Peter walks across the stormy waters toward the Lord, who saves him when he starts to sink.
So which is it? Is God in the quiet whispers or out there walking on the swells of water as the wind howls around him?
The answer is, of course, both.
Don’t forget a vital fact about that first reading: Before he came to Elijah in a whisper, God sent a strong wind and an earthquake and fire. Elijah knew to look for the Lord not in the chaos of life, but in the calm that comes despite the chaos. Peter, meanwhile, sank because he stopped focusing on the Lord and looked at the storm instead.
The truth is, God is a special case. He is not on the surface of things; he is the bedrock of reality. He is not part of the crazy, ever-changing world that swirls around us; he is the fundamental truth that does not change.
We are so much smaller than God, and our world is so limited, that when we search for God, it is not like looking for a needle in a Kansas haystack; it’s like trying to find Kansas in a haystack. We are looking for something that is so large that it is the context in which all of those other things exist.
The way to do it is clear in the readings: God is there in your life, walking by in the storm and whispering after the earthquakes. To hear him you have to give up on the stress and anxiety, quiet yourself and listen.
Try it the next time you are in a family argument. Say, “Come, Holy Spirit, show us how you are here.” Or the next time work becomes a stressful mess, pray, “Lord, let me find you underneath it all.”
If you are experiencing a storm, be assured that God is there with you.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.