(1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a & Matthew 14:22-33) Waiting for the boarding call in a busy airport can be quite a challenge amid the usual noise, activity, and boarding calls for other flights departing around the same time. Failure to hear the boarding call does not mean that it wasn’t made, only that the excessive surrounding noise prevented one from hearing it. Although our first reading does not suggest this, I wonder if the tiny whispering sound was present all along and simply not audible because of the noise of the strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire. Similarly, the divinity of Jesus (although always a reality) becomes so much clearer as Jesus steps into the boat and the wind and storm dies down, leading the disciples to do him homage and exclaim: Truly, you are the Son of God!
Monastic life undertakes the arduous effort to quieten the noise, distractions, and the busyness that deafen us to the tiny whispering sound heralding the presence of the One who is never absent. Even though the daily struggle to eliminate external noise and distractions is a real challenge, we know all too well that the even greater challenge is attaining inner quiet and tranquility, without which the tiny whispering sound remains inaudible. Reasons for this difficulty (and seeming impossibility) are varied and most we share in common.
One of these is that we all enter monastic life from a world that intentionally creates noise and seeks distractions of every kind. Divesting ourselves of this noisy legacy is the hard work of the early years of formation in which we battle the temptation to find monastic equivalents for the worldly distractions we left behind. The unrecognized fear of deepening self-knowledge (that typically occurs in the absence of outer noise and distractions), can make this temptation difficult to resist. The same anxiety can fuel attempts to bypass this purgative phase of growing self-knowledge by trying to escape into some contemplative state that only truly emerges after self-knowledge has deepened and the process of purification and integration progressed.
Along this same purgative road, the cacophony of the inevitable crises and spiritual storms further overwhelm the tiny whispering sound continually sounding in the depths of our hearts. However, it is only through these crises and storms that we reach that graced moment of fully experiencing our helplessness and powerlessness which, in turn, brings quiet to our previously noisy hearts. And it is in this newfound silence that we hear the tiny whispering sound inviting us to surrender in trust to the one who has always been coming towards us across the turbulent waters of our troubled lives. Like Peter, this stepping out in faith and trust usually results in rapid sinking beneath the waves. However, with repeated attempts, we come to learn that Christ is absolutely trustworthy. and at every moment beckons us to leave the boat of our fears and insecurities to walk with him on the waters, until we reach the other side and step onto those eternal and silent shores of our heavenly and eternal home.