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Two sermons offer Unitarian Universalist interpretations of the passage from scripture about Elijah and the still, small voice:
"The Still, Small Voice of Calm," given March 18, 2001, by Revered Gary E. Smith in Concord, Massachusetts, relates the story of Elijah, a tired prophet, to modern UUs' lives. He says, in part:
Up until this point, the Israelites have depended heavily upon the wind, the earthquake, and the fire to prove the power and the might of the one they hold most holy. What if instead the God of our forebears is to be found in the power of silence, found not in this booming anthropomorphic bellow of an angry father, but in a "small voice of calm?" This is a radical theological change and not one with which the storyteller necessarily lingers.
. . . I think we often find ourselves in Elijah's place: overworked, overstressed, burned out, tired of trying to prove ourselves, under-appreciated, at the end of our rope, alone, and tired . . . We can find ourselves in Elijah's place in the wider world, particularly in our passion for politics and change. It all sometimes seems so hopeless. What difference can one person make?
. . . Elijah is a caricature for all of this, it seems to me, to the point that he is reduced to challenging his detractors to a fire ignition contest. Better that he had skipped that and gone directly to what he does next. He heads for the wilderness. He rests. He dreams. Better yet, he listens to his dreams.
For a Unitarian Universalist overview of ways and places to hear the "still, small voice," read "Heeding the Call," a sermon given by the Reverend Dr. Daniel O'Connell at Eliot Unitarian Chapel, Kirkwood, Missouri, on April 14, 2002.
The essay, "Elijah and the 'Still, Small Voice': A Desert Reading," by Rabbi Michael Comins can be found on the Torah TrekR website. Rabbi Comins proposes the translation "voice of fragile silence," based on his own experience reflecting on Elijah's story while sitting under the shadow of Mt. Sinai and reflecting on Elijah's experience. He says, in part
Not all silences are alike. Put in earplugs or enter a soundproof room and the silence is muggy and oppressive. Silence in a forested, mountain wilderness is rare. The wind howls, leaves rustle, birds chirp, insects buzz, creeks "sing." True silence, perhaps on a peak when the wind stops, is actually quite rare. It hits suddenly, with dramatic impact.
In Israel's deserts and the Sinai, where the wind is usually still for at least half the day, the silence is vastly different. If you are in the desert now, close your eyes and wait for the wind to stop. This silence is total, yet light and natural — even embracing.
And precious. The smallest movement of an insect or the slightest breeze registers audibly. You hear the ruffling of your sleeve, or the call of a raven miles away. This is desert silence. Easily disturbed. A fragile silence.
A sermon by Rabbi Janet Marder, given in September 2004 at Temple Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, California, articulates a contemporary message she finds in the story of Elijah and the still, small voice. Read "Does God Still Speak to People?" online. She says, in part:
The text says that God passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks, but God was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came fire, but God was not in the fire. Finally, after the fire came "kol d'mama daka" — a phrase that is sometimes translated "a still, small voice." That is the only answer that Elijah gets; but it is enough to send him back to the world to do God's work.
Most important for us, today, though, may be our experiences of the still, small voice — the quiet yet overpowering consciousness inside us of what is right, of what is real, of what matters in this life and what is essential for us to do. The still, small voice speaks the deepest truths we know. It comes to us at moments of intense joy and also in sadness, when we feel most alone. The still, small voice can lift us out of despair, as it did Elijah; it can remind us that our lives have meaning and purpose, and that there is work to be done in this world.
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