1 Kings 19:9,11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
J.A. Loftus S.J.
Baptism of Isabella Grace Menezes
The question that arises for me, both from the readings today and the occasion of the celebration we gather to share, is this: does God really make a sound? Is there a way to know God’s presence just by listening?
Elijah thought so. But he was surprised. The story told today from the first Book of Kings probably goes back almost 3000 years. And people then, Elijah included, thought God made a distinctive sound. And so they listened very carefully for God’s voice. They had been trained to listen for great winds, hurricanes really, the kind of winds that “split mountains and break rocks into pieces.” They had been trained to listen for earthquakes; God spoke through catastrophe. They had been trained to strain to hear the whoosh of wildfires and to prepare themselves to worship their all-powerful God. Many people even today still strain to hear God’s voice in these ways; they expect God to be larger than life and so obvious.
So listen to Elijah’s story. After all the commotion, and all the dashed expectations of finding a God who would be, should be, obvious, there is nothing left but “the sound of sheer silence.” And Elijah wraps his face in homage and stands at the entrance of the cave to listen–again.
Thirty-five to forty years ago (if you were around then), most of us would have been found at least humming, if not singing, the number one song on the charts by Simon and Garfunkle; it was called The Sounds of Silence. “Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again.” Do you suppose Art Garfunkle shared with Paul Simon this part of the Jewish epic from the first Book of Kings? I wonder. But their song captures exactly the strange expectations most of us bring to God, and how God ought to speak. Silence and darkness is not usually a part of the script.
In Matthew’s gospel we hear of another great wind and we are invited to share a terrifying moment on a storm-tossed sea. It is a lovely story. God bless Peter! He, too, is sure God can be found speaking through the storm. He gets giddy with his own confidence to hear God’s voice. And just like most of us when we get giddy and over-confident we know God’s voice, he sinks!
Matthew tells us that only when they all get back into the boat, the wind ceased. And it became deadly quiet. And this time, finally, God’s voice is heard saying: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” And this time, God’s voice is a human voice and it speaks with tenderness and love, because this voice knows first-hand the human experience of love and loss, of fun and fear, of life and death.
What does God sound like? Just like Isabella Grace today (whether still or noisy). God’s voice is forever a human voice. God’s voice is still. Into that stillness we bring Isabella Grace to be baptized. Listen! And let yourselves be brought back to the still point of the mystery, the mystery of the life, death and rising into which we are all baptized. Listen!
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