The Sound of Sheer Silence

God rarely makes dramatic displays of his omnipotence to get our attention, preferring to draw us to himself with a soft whisper.

Godfrey Kneller, “Elijah and the Angel,” 1672
Godfrey Kneller, “Elijah and the Angel,” 1672 (photo: Public Domain)

When you were a student in middle school, did you know someone like Frannie? Frannie had wavy brown hair down to her tiny waist. Frannie had doe eyes with long lashes, and a voice as sweet as Bit-O-Honey candy. 

Frannie was my classmate at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. Like all the other girls in Grade 7-1, I desperately wanted to be just like Frannie, whose captivating ways included an affinity for socking people in the arm. Especially people who were boys. If a boy teased Frannie — which happened all the time, since boys prove their love for girls by teasing them — she would feign anger and punch the lout’s arm with her petite fist. 

The boys found this irresistible. The Dainty Punch would, it seemed, turn the coolest adolescent male into a quivering mound of Jell-O.

I thought that, by executing a move similar to Frannie’s signature Dainty Punch, I too might become a femme fatale. I resolved to test my theory on my secret crush, a quiet and studious classmate named James.

James’ assigned seat in the classroom was directly in front of mine. Like all the other desks in the room, James’ consisted of a wooden chair with a writing surface attached. One day during recess, I was sitting at my desk fondly watching James who, with his fingers resting casually on the back of his chair, was chatting amiably with a classmate.

Suddenly the realization hit me: My moment had come! I would do something to make James notice me, something on par with the Dainty Punch: a flirty move that would catch James’ attention and capture his heart. 

In one swift, albeit graceless, movement, I lurched forward, throwing all of my as-yet-baby-fatted body weight toward the front of my desk. The desk slid across the tiled floor and struck James’ fingers, mashing them against the back of James’ chair.

James noticed me, all right, but not in the way that I had hoped. 

I should have heeded the wisdom shared by the fragrance company Coty in a current television ad: “If you want to capture someone's attention, whisper.” Read: Nix the arm-punching and finger-mashing. 

But while Coty was credited with the slogan, God was the one who originated the concept. After all, it was about 2,800 years earlier that God spoke to the prophet Elijah:

Now there was a great wind … 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 a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave (1 Kings 19:11-13).

 God rarely makes dramatic displays of his omnipotence to get our attention, preferring to draw us to himself with a soft whisper. St. Francis de Sales would say that “the spirit of God, gentle, ever sweet, is in the soft refreshing zephyrs, not in the whirlwind, or the tempest.”

In contrast, Frannie and I were anything but subtle in our efforts to get noticed. The Lord could have been speaking directly to both of us when he declared, “Nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8)!

What of my classmate James? I’m happy to report that the finger-mashing incident did not do any real damage, other than to my romantic hopes and dreams. And James himself — now Father James — is serving as pastor of a parish in New York. God spoke to James in sheer silence and, like Elijah, James heard and heeded his voice.