The elements are raging this Sunday. Elijah is told to stand before the Lord atop Mount Horeb. A heavy wind roars against him, “rending the mountains and crushing rocks.” Then, a mighty earthquake stems from the depths, shaking the ground that supports him. Finally, a fire spins around the mountain, devouring all life it touches. Will it reach Elijah too? Peter has similar troubles in our gospel. He is also called to stand before the Lord, yet not on a mountaintop, but upon water. The waves rise against him and he fears dropping to the deep. Wind, earth, fire and water! The world is falling upon God’s saints. But where is God?
Elijah’s three elemental visitors are each clamorous and urgent, demanding attention, but Elijah hardly notices them. He waits, still and composed, expecting the Lord who “will be passing by.” Despite the awesome power of each, “the Lord was not in” the wind, earthquake or fire. Though they were loud and raucous, they had no voice. They might scare anyone, but they can speak to none. Elijah, anticipating the Lord’s arrival, is anticipating someone with whom he can talk. God always comes with words and purpose. So, not until he hears that “small, still voice” does Elijah hide “his face in his cloak,” knowing the Lord is present.
Peter hears God’s voice as well: “Come.” Invited to step upon the lake, he starts with confidence. But that voice, which once calmed the sea (Matt 8:26), could not calm Peter’s heart. Anxious, noticing the waves, Peter falters. He begins to sink. Listening to the waters that threaten him, Peter disbelieves the voice that speaks to him. As he loses his faith, a dark and watery chaos begins to claim him. Without God’s voice to secure him, the world appears a rambling senseless storm. The winds blow, the waters crash, but they say nothing to his heart. Peter struggles. Unable to swim and in final desperation he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus is amazed: “Why did you doubt?”
Our God speaks. He has a voice. The spiritual life aims at learning his voice and listening for it always. There are plenty of fires and heavy winds competing for our attention. There are plenty of crashing waves that would drown out the peaceful whisper of God speaking. Discerning the difference between the earthquake and God’s voice certainly requires familiarity, perseverance and prayer. But it is first an issue of faith. When we believe in his power and providence, when we abandon all worry into his hands, then, despite the present storms, we find that secluded spot where God speaks within us; from there, his voice fills the earth.