The Still Small Voice (1 Kings 19:11-13)

In 1 Kings the prophet Elijah hears the voice of God saying,

Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke 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.

And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood at the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Some translations use the word “whisper” in the place of “still small voice.” Whatever phrase we use to describe it, the text makes clear that the LORD speaks not in “strong wind” nor earthquakes nor fires, but rather in quiet promptings of the heart, whispers that we can miss if we don’t stop and listen to our inmost beings.

Contemplative Thomas Merton says, “The sacred attitude is one of reverence, awe, and silence before the mystery that begins to take place within us when we become aware of our inmost self.” In her poem “Nishmat” Marge Piercy says,

Let silence still us so you may show us your shining
and we can out of that stillness rise and praise

We human beings are noisy creatures. And we love spectacle. Yet the contemplative tradition is quite clear on the role of stillness. The anonymous medieval author of the meditative manual The Cloud of Unknowing put it this way:

All those who set out to be spiritual workers within (their own souls) and suppose they can hear, smell, see, taste, or feel spiritual things—either within the body or without it—surely are deceived and work against the course of nature. For nature has ordained that through nature we will know all outward, bodily things, but in no wise by those will we arrive at knowing spiritual things.

Winds, earthquakes, and fires come and go. The still small voice of our consciousness remains.


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