• Fr. van Zee

Listening for the Still Small Voice of God

In these days of isolation, stay-at-home orders, self-quarantine, etc. I have found a great source of consolation: silent time with God. We have all had to assess in one way or another the “essential” versus “non-essential” aspects of life in some way or another and, hopefully, trimmed the fat from our lives to some extent. This elimination of non-essentials has left time for silence, something this world desperately needs. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that God has planned this epidemic in such a way to help us practice silence.

There is one example from Scripture that stands out as a time when God punished a person by making him silent. Zechariah, the aged father of John the Baptist, was struck dumb for his disbelief. The punishment that the angel inflicts on Zechariah is one of silence. God punished Zechariah through the Angel Gabriel, but not because He was mad at Zechariah and wanted to get him back. God punished him in this way so that he would have to reflect on his disbelief. He wasn’t able to speak so that he would have that time to consider the error of his ways and prayerfully work on trusting that God does, in fact, answer prayers and work marvels.

In contrast, the Scriptures say, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51). She kept silent and pondered on the holy will of God. When the Angel came to her, she was ready to accept God’s will for her because she already practiced silence and recollection.

This is an important lesson for us because we see that Zechariah was struck dumb to rectify his disbelief. In an age where the “nones” are the majority and believers the minority, it doesn’t seem so far fetched that God would want to instill silence in our lives to rectify unbelief.

We know from the Sacred Scriptures that God speaks in a still small voice. The following is from Elijah’s meeting with God at Mount Horeb:

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And 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).

Our Lord Himself preaches to us through the Canon of the Mass when He visits us shrouded in silence. When Our Lady of Knock appeared in Ireland, among a people known for loquacity, she said not a word. Americans too are well known for their distaste for “dead air”, a desire to say something whenever the conversation ceases, and letting the TV remain on indefinitely to fill any potential gap in the noise.

Christ warned us that we will have to pay for every idle word (Mt 12:36). St. Ignatius explains that an idle word is one that is not for the true good of the hearer or speaker. In other words, everything we say must be said in charity for the real, as opposed to the invented, good of someone.

St. John Climacus said:

Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to show itself and make a display. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a door to slander, a guide to jesting, a servant of falsehood, the ruin of compunction, a creator of despondency, a precursor of sleep, the dissipation of recollection, the abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardor, the darkening of prayer.[1]

Our Savior would love to talk to us, but because of so much non-essential commotion, has been unable to get through to us. Let us give ear to the still small voice by silencing the non-essential aspects in our lives.

[1] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (New York: Harper & Brothers 1959), Step 11.

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