Written by Matthew Scraper
“…and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake 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: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
1 Kings 19:11-12
Last summer I had the good fortune to travel to the Abbey of Gethsemani as a part of my participation in a doctor of ministry program at Asbury Theological Seminary. The Abbey of Gethsemani is home to monks of the Roman Catholic Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO). Also known as “Trappist” monks, a name reminiscent of their town of origin, the monks of Gethsemani hold the distinction of being the contemporaries of Thomas Merton, a famous Roman Catholic author who lived much of his adult life on the grounds of this little monastery in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Though the Trappist monks do not take a vow of silence, they do believe in only speaking when necessary. Likewise, they devote certain times of the day to silence and contemplation. It was during one of these prolonged periods of silence (nearly 2 hours) that I found myself walking the Abbey grounds, enjoying the silence and solitude of a beautiful summer day. As cliché as it may sound, the silencing of my own voice and the voices of others opened my ears, to the beauty of quiet.
On any given day, there are so many voices competing for our attention. They are the voices of family and friends, of employers and co-workers, of bloggers and pundits, of advertisers and the social elite. They are the voices that would tell us what to think and what to do, how to feel and what to believe, what to pursue and whom to become. Each voice claims authenticity and authority, and there is always an implied devaluation of our individual worth, should we choose to ignore or disagree with them.
It was there, on the grounds of a forgotten abbey tucked away on a quiet hillside near a small Kentucky town that, for the first time in a very long time, my ears were reawakened to the sound of silence. As I listened to the silence, the residual noise of the competing voices of my life began to fade away, as if carried by the quiet solace of the wind. The silencing of the influence of those competing voices had left some space inside of my spirit. It was a space that had been too cluttered for too long; a space that had been commandeered and usurped by the forceful opinions of those who were never welcome there in the first place. It was a space that was now free and uncluttered, like a blank canvas waiting impatiently for the first brush stroke of the master.
I am not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the midst of that precious moment, on the fresh canvas created by the newfound, uncluttered space, the Swift Sure Hand of that Still Small Voice began to speak into my spirit, and the result was the beginning of a new masterpiece, begun on the canvas that is my life.
Though there are undoubtedly competing voices in your life, each one striving to usurp your identity, there is only one Voice that knows your true name. It is God’s voice, and it is a still voice…a small voice, but it is a powerful voice. Choose to listen to that voice. Decide to discover your identity together with the God who created you and you might just be pleasantly surprised by the beautiful complexity of who you really are.