At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 sound of sheer silence.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" — 1 Kings 19:9-13
I am kind of surprised to hear that God is not in the whirlwind, because so many people and things have been shouting at me out of the whirlwind, saying they speak for God.
I listen to the whirlwind: its commands and its shouts and its splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces. Whirlwinds shout in the world, from hurricanes and typhoons and earthquakes and podiums and Twitter and text messages. You get slowly sucked in until you are spinning, too, in the whirlwind, and gods are all around telling you to be louder and faster and better and both more ashamed and more bold all at once.
Sometimes I see another person in the whirlwind, and we try to wave across the wind, and I say, "Hi."
But you can't hear anyone across the whirlwind because the whirlwind is so loud, so you end up having to shout at each other. They think your waving hand is a shaking fist, and you think their nod is a judging shake of the head, a roll of the eyes. Across the whirlwind the sound is distorted.
I did not think the whirlwind was God but I treated it as God anyway. It woke me up at night, distorted dreams and people I loved transformed as unrecognizable. The whirlwind made me grind my teeth and clench my fists, and I shouted across the whirlwind at the ones I loved most. It was whirling so fast I could barely see them in the distance. I thought maybe they'd had their arms outstretched to hug, but I couldn't tell and it could also have been arms outstretched to push me away, so I pushed back, against the whirlwind and against them.
The whirlwind doesn't care who or what it destroys, it only wants to be bigger and louder and more powerful. It sucks up all the energy, and its eerie ringing doesn't let you sleep.
The rushing wind. Anger and fear and resentment and grief. The whirlwind rushes around a ticking clock, sand dripping slowly into the bottom of the hourglass; the whirlwind made the sand go faster.
"You don't have much time."
"You're doing it all wrong."
In the center of the whirlwind, there is no room for justice — only noise and anger. And yet it is so hard to step away from the whirlwind. It demands more and more of you, carrying off your whole body and demanding you feed it with whatever numbs the noise, the Internet, pills, alcohol, sex, work, pain. The whirlwind says it requires an offering and you are the offering, all of us together offering ourselves to the gods of chaos and noise.
The center of the action and the noise must be the place where God is born.
I tried to shout louder into the whirlwind, but it only made me lose my voice.
Fatigued and exhausted, kneeling on the floor, in the wreckage of the whirlwind, God speaks.
You cannot hear the sheer silence from the center of the whirlwind. You have to let the whirlwind pass you by, step out of its path for a minute and dwell instead in the wreckage the whirlwind leaves behind. Here we can hear each other, can see clearly the outstretched arms that never meant to push you away.
The clarity of the sheer silence, the voice of God, is so pure you at first want to cover your face, as Elijah did, to be covered anew by something bigger and more powerful than the all-encompassing whirlwind.
What are you doing here? God asks me.
I remember why I came. To love and to be loved. To speak and hear truth. To laugh.
To be zealous for a God who never swept me into the whirlwind but carried me out after the whirlwind left, laying me to rest among the wreckage with the other souls who came to put each other back together again.
Carry on, God says.