Living Carmelite Hope through the example of Our Prophet
In order to continue the journey, we need a little push from time to time. Remember the scene where Elijah sits under a bush and wishes that he were dead. (I Kings 19, 4). God has a plan for him and the divine plan could be thwarted
if Elijah does not continue his journey so God sends an angel. This divine messenger gives Elijah a push, offering food and drink. The angel has to repeat the process before Elijah is willing to get up and continue his journey. We have no facile answers to the problems of the world. It is an insult and a blasphemy to assure someone who is crushed by some event or illness that it is the will of God. Why bad things happen to good people or why bad things happen at all is a mystery. When Jesus was crucified, he experienced the absence of God and especially in our modern day, this is a very common experience. God seems to be absent from our modem world. Many people, even believers, seem to be practical atheists in the sense that they live as though God did not exist even though they might go to church on a Sunday.
Where is God in the midst of all our problems? Our faith tells us that God cannot really be absent from our lives. That would be hell. But perhaps we need to learn to discern the presence of God in the apparent absence of God and to learn a new language, God's language. Our brother, John of the Cross, tells us that,
One word the Father spoke, which word was His Son, and this word he speaks ever in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul4
We have to cultivate a profound silence within so that we can hear what God wants to say to us. We need to listen to God in prayer of course but also in the events of daily life. Often we have so much noise going on inside us that we cannot hear or discern anything else. As Carmelites, this silence should come naturally to us, or at least the desire for it. This is not just an ascetic practice and it is not referring merely to an external silence. It is an internal silence in order to discern the presence of God in the midst of even the most hopeless situation so that we can continue our journey with hope.
We need to try to identify the noise inside us: the commentaries on others, on events, and on ourselves. Once we have become aware of our internal noise, we can begin to let it go so that it does not influence everything we do, think and say If we continue the journey we will be brought face to face with our prejudices, our irrational fears and our presumptions. This experience is not to depress us but so that we can be liberated from them.
It is necessary to cultivate an interior silence so that we will be aware that God is speaking to us through some simple and humble messenger. If we are not silent within, life passes us by and we never grasp the true significance of what happens to us. It is interesting to have a period of silence with a group. After a few seconds, the coughing starts, then the shifting in seats, the odd rustling of paper can be heard. Many of us are not completely at ease with external silence. We wake up in the morning and turn on the radio. We spend our day working where we are often surrounded by noise of all kinds; we do not have much time even to think. We have an internal tape or cd that comments on everything and everyone throughout the day. The comments on the internal tape are based on our particular perspective on life, which of course is usually in our favour. We instinctively defend ourselves if we feel under attack and we seek the esteem and acceptance of others. We do this usually without being aware of what is going on inside us. It is a constant internal noise that makes it difficult to hear any other voice. The journey of faith towards transformation takes us through bright sunlight and dark valleys. God uses all the events of our life, good and bad, as instruments of purification, which is essential if we are to become what God has created us to be. We have to make the effort to attempt to discern the hand of God at work but this discernment is much easier if we can calm the noise inside us and hear the voice of God who speaks in the sound of the gentle breeze, or as some exegetes have it, "the sound of sheer silence" (I Kings 19,13).
Remember the experience of Elijah. He has just won a great victory for Yahweh on Mount Carmel but he is threatened by Jezebel and immediately his internal noise drowns out his trust in God. He goes into the desert, which is traditionally the place of silence. God speaks to Elijah through the angel so that Elijah will continue his journey. Elijah has difficulty in discerning the voice of God in the midst of all his troubles but eventually plods on to Horeb. When he arrives there, God asks him what he is doing there. Elijah replies that he is filled with great zeal for the Lord God of hosts. He tells God that he is the only champion of Yahweh remaining in the whole of Israel. God does not respond at this point but simply tells Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain. There Elijah meets God but not in the way he expects nor in the way that his whole religious tradition has taught him to expect. Elijah has to silence all his internal voices that tell him what God is like so that he can receive God as God is. Once Elijah has met God on God's terms, and not on his own terms, he is open to hear the truth, which sets him free from illusion. He thought that God really needed him since he was the only prophet left. God very gently points out that in fact there are 7000 others who have not bent the knee to Baal. Now freed from illusion, Elijah receives a new mission from God, which is in fact mostly carried out by his successor, Elisha, who is the recipient of a double portion of his spirit.5