Image: Tombstone mountain valley, Yukon Territory
There is something exhilarating about standing on a high mountain with the world far below or being on the ocean, far from land with the vast horizon stretching out in every direction. Here in the north the barrenlands and the forests call to the people and we long to be in these remote locations where the busyness of town life cannot intrude. It is no wonder that, in so many biblical encounters with God, the setting takes us to these extreme places. In today’s first reading we find the prophet Elijah high atop a mountain, hiding in a cave, when the Lord God comes to him.
When we think of God’s characteristics, extreme is probably a good word to sum them up. We think of God as all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present. It does not get more superlative than this. We would expect that an encounter with God would be extreme and that we would have to hold on tight to something in order to survive. Yet God’s presence before Elijah takes on a different character. As Elijah looks for God’s arrival, he first faces the great wind, but God is not in the wind. Then Elijah experiences the earthquake, but God is not there. Finally, the fire comes, and God is not in the fire. It is not until everything is at last calm and very, very, still that the prophet finally encounters God and it is in a tiny quiet voice that God comes to give consolation and direction.
It is in this depiction of God that we begin to realize that the most extreme place, and perhaps the most overlooked, is our interior self. It is here that God is most at home and where God’s Spirit resides. Like the high places and the wide-open spaces, our inner self is both exhilarating and a little bit scary but more than worthy of exploration. It is here that we find the vast reserves of strength that we call upon when we are in trouble and we also find some of the not so helpful things, crevices and caves that would benefit from having a light shine in them from time to time and a chance to air them out.
Every person, while connected to all others, is truly a universe unto themselves and it is important for us to be in touch with what makes us who we are as individuals, unique in the eyes of God. We are inundated with so much from the world around us that we begin to think that this is where we will find our meaning and that the things of this world will define who we are. Elijah was caught in this kind of thinking; he thought his mission was over and that all that he stood for had come to an end. But in quiet and contemplation he found the inner peace he was looking for, the voice of God that said I am still here, you are still you and nothing can change that.
During this time of social isolation many people in our communities have returned to the land for safety and healing. It is good that they have that opportunity and it has been good for their spirit to do so. But when that is not possible, we can always make the pilgrimage inward, to quiet ourselves, to pray and listen for the quiet voice of God who will remind us who we are, how much he loves us and that everything will be okay.