Reflection for Sunday – August 13, 2023

Readings: 1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a; Romans 9: 1-5; Matthew 14: 22-33 
Preacher: Sonja Livingston

Does this happen to you? You need to read the tiny script on the back of a bottle or take a quick drive to the store, so you reach for your glasses, only to find they’re not there. You check the kitchen counter. No luck. You backtrack to the front hall, thinking you surely left your glasses where your keys and wallet are stored. Nothing. You call your sister to ask if you left them at her place, and when she says no, you go out to the car and run your hand under the driver’s seat but come away with nothing but an ancient butterscotch and a handful of dust. You begin to feel just a tiny bit desperate. The clock is ticking. You need those glasses! Panicked, you push your hands through your hair, and voila, there they are, perched on top of your head. We’re giddy with relief but also astounded that we could search so frantically for something that was with us the whole time. Those glasses were so close—almost a part of our body, really—we could no longer feel them there.

That’s what the scene with Elijah reminds me of today. No, the prophet isn’t missing his bifocals. In fact, up until now, he’s had perfect vision. But he’s in a slump. After some important victories, Jezebel has ordered his execution and he’s hiding out at Mt. Horeb. The prophet takes shelter in a cave, weary and waiting to hear from God. He looks for messages in the mighty wind, in the earthquake and the fire. Such unusual events! Surely, Elijah must think, I will find God in them. He searches and searches to no avail. When the dejected and frightened prophet finally encounters God, it’s as a gentle murmur. Whether the passage is translated as a “tiny whisper,” or a “still small voice,” like those glasses “hidden” on our heads, God is so quiet in his approach and so very close, it’s easy to imagine Elijah nearly missing him there. 

Elijah can hardly be blamed for looking for God in the extraordinary. He’d grown used to spectacular happenings by then. He’d been fed by ravens near the Jordan, raised the widow’s son from the dead at Zarepheth, and defeated King Ahab’s idolatrous priests in a show-down on Mount Carmel. Thanks to Elijah’s intercession, God sent rain to quench the drought plaguing Israel. But when Elijah’s at his lowest, God arrives in a murmur and not a mighty blaze.

Like Elijah, I wonder if we’ve become accustomed to looking for God in miracles and spectacular events. This week is loaded with them. Jesus walks on water in Matthew’s Gospel. So does Peter—until he’s sunk by doubt. In a few days, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption and the image of Our Lady lifted upward and welcomed into Heaven. And while we may not walk on water or be lifted so directly into Heaven, we have our share of the spectacular in our own lives—moments so amazing, they make us feel as if we’re floating. The birth of a child, for instance. Being honored at work. An illness cured. Such occasions are so uplifting, it’s easy to feel God pulsing at their core.

My spectacular moments are hinged to certain places. The Scottish island of Iona, for instance. The coast of County Kerry. Such landscapes are so sublime they offer obvious and immediate bridges to God. This week l head to another favorite place at Lake Champlain and will revel in that stretch of blue. But today’s readings remind me that I don’t have to step on an airplane or book a hotel room to encounter God. Closer and quieter conduits surround us all the time. The arc of hose water catching light as I water the ferns; a kind word from the call center operator on the phone; the vibration of my cat’s purr as I type these words.

We need the big moments. Just as the disciples needed Jesus to rise above the chaos of the churning sea and reassure them with his, “Be not afraid,” so too must we heed and cherish the spectacular when it arrives in our lives. But Elijah reminds us that God approaches quietly, too. He may be as hard to locate as those glasses perched atop our heads, but God calls to us in every moment—no matter how small or ordinary. We only need to remember him there.

Sonja Livingston
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