Written by an OCCM Alum
8 February, 2023
“After the earthquake, there will be a fire, but the Lord will not be in the fire. After the fire, there will be a sound of a gentle breeze, and the Lord will be there.”
1 Kings 19:12
This is the story of Elijah fleeing from the evil Queen Jezebel. At this point of time, he is in despair and shows signs of depression and even asks God to take his life. God’s response to Elijah and his struggles is nothing short of wondrous. God tells Elijah to go to the mountain and wait for him. God then sent the strongest of elements but He didn’t appear in a fire, or in a strong wind, or in an earthquake; but in a gentle breeze. Often times in our own lives we forget to look for that gentle breeze that carries God in it. Other translations of the Bible describe the gentle breeze as a “still small voice.”
The stillness of God is seen all throughout the Old Testament and even more in the New Testament through Christ’s words and actions. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress woman to stone her, our Lord “stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger” in front of her (John 8:6). When Christ raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, He immediately ordered the household to get her something to eat (Mark 5:43). When Christ passed by Matthew in the city at the tax office, all He said was “Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9). These small and kind acts of Jesus perfectly reflect the stillness of God’s voice in our lives and the definition of Him as love. Even in the midnight praises, in the Adam Psali for the departure of the Virgin Mary, we praise saying “Very suddenly, there was a breeze, and they smelled incense.” The Coptic word for breeze is nifi, which can also be used as a verb, “to blow” or “to breathe.” This takes us back to the beginning, when God breathed the breath of life in man, making him in His image and likeness. When we recognize the still small voice of God, we recognize our true reflection in Him and become icons of Him. Jairus’s daughter Talitha, the adulteress woman, Matthew, Elijah, all those who experienced and recognized nifi were able to see their true reflections and how they are made in the image of God. By seeing their reflections in God and becoming icons of Him, they completed their works and our Lord’s will and are now remembered throughout generations. Imagine a lake that is very still. It’s so still that you see your reflection perfectly in the water. Then a pebble is thrown in the water and causes a disturbance. There are ripples in the water and you can no longer see your reflection. When we ruin the stillness in our hearts, we no longer see our true reflections and our icon of Christ is marred. It is essential to learn how to be still and listen for His Voice.
We always look for the great and powerful and ignore the small and quiet. The Jewish people for so long looked for the great Messiah that would free them from Rome’s occupation, yet they crucified the King and Almighty Himself. We think to ourselves when we read the passages and interpretations of Pascha Week, how foolish those people were, to crucify their own Creator and not recognize Him as the Son of God. Yet how are we any different? We fail to recognize God in ourselves so how can we recognize Him in others and in the world around us? We fail to recognize and feel the nifi. When we can’t hear God or feel the nifi, we question God and doubt Him, thinking we don’t receive anything from Him or that He never answers our prayers. Even the greats of the Old Testament, such as Moses and Job questioned and struggled with God only to be faced with the reality that they know nothing, that God works in mysterious ways and won’t be able to understand until the end of times. After questioning God, God answered back with His own questions. “Were you there when I created the heaven and the earth? Who made man’s mouth? Who made the mute, the deaf, the seeing, and the blind?” The final answer to all that Moses and Job questioned is that God IS. “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
The still small voice we tend to ignore or avoid throughout our days is the same I AM who made everything that there is. The still small voice revealed to Elijah is the Same I AM who was crucified on the Cross and died for our sins. The still small voice that Christ portrayed during His trials and humiliations was not out of His weakness or hopelessness. It was out of His unfathomable and immeasurable love and passion for us. The same that he showed all those people described earlier. God reveals His love and passion for each of us in different ways, but it’s all the same still small voice that He moves our hearts with. Have you ever noticed when you’re having a rough day or something upsets you, and then the smallest compliment or act of kindness from a stranger or friend makes you smile and immediately feel better? That’s exactly what God does with us. His small acts of love, on top of His biggest proclamation of love for us through the Cross, light up our days and make us smile. His still small voice is gentle, considerate, humble, and meek. And those who continually hear that still small voice are often seen as fools. St. Paul once called himself a fool for Christ’s sake and that’s an honest and accurate description of a Christian. The loudness of this world and those who oppose us can easily overcome God’s voice in us, making us think the world as right, but we have to persistently quiet ourselves to hear Him. Steven Chapman writes in his book, “Satan is screaming lies over us all day long. And God whispers the truth in a still, small voice. So often the voice we listen to most is the one we hear loudest.” By quieting ourselves and yearning for His stillness, we are able to shut out the madness of this world as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III so beautifully puts it, and it becomes easier and easier to not just hear our Lord, but to more importantly feel and experience Him. Christ, in a straightforward manner, instructs a good way to quiet ourselves, is to put ourselves away in our rooms and shut the door and just pray. The stillness we must practice comes from the heart and God seeks that still quiet place in our hearts to rest His head in: think of leaning on your parent’s or sibling’s shoulder because that’s where you find the most comfort. All it takes is prayer to hear the voice of God, to feel the nifi, and grow that deep silent faith that our forefathers kept. Elijah prayed and felt the gentle breeze. We too must pray in persistence to feel the breeze. And it’s not a one time deal. It’s a consistent and growing relationship with God, it’s the desire to know Him as one knows his or her father, it’s the struggle in our relationship with God that we continually fight, so that one day, we meet Him face to face and that still small voice becomes clear as day.
To put these words into practice, a simple exercise to make a habit of, even just once a week, is something His Grace Bishop Basil had the congregation do at a youth meeting once. Go outside at any time of the day, and just spend five minutes with zero distractions. No phone, no talking, no busy or hurried thoughts. Take a walk around or stand still, but pay attention to everything and anything you see, hear, smell, and feel. At night, you might hear the owls or the rustling of leaves and see the stars. During the day, you might hear cicadas in the distance, smell freshly cut grass and see clouds. It was an unforgettable moment that we partook in with His Grace, and it reminded all of us of the wonders of God which could be seen, smelt, heard, and felt in ordinary life. This little exercise would serve as a constant reminder of our walk with God to the eternal and heavenly life, so that when we do meet Him, we already know Him because we were able to recognize His still small voice.