by Hannah Hawkinson
“Listen to the quiet. Can you hear it?”
As a child, I neither understood nor appreciated my grandfather’s frequent exhortation during family visits to our cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
Opa, why would I listen to the quiet? I thought. There’s so much to do–swimming, a game of Canasta, reading old Richie Rich comics, trying out the paddleboat, walking into town, going for a bike ride and maybe even some go-karting!
Listening to the quiet was a waste of time, especially when there was such fun to be had.
Action-packed Bible stories
It’s no surprise that many of my favorite childhood Bible stories were also action-packed. Elijah battling the priests of Ba’al at Mount Carmel! Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers at the Temple! The disciples being filled with the Spirit at Pentecost! These were stories where God took action, and the heroes reigned victorious, where God engaged in cosmic battle, where Christ launched the Temple into holy chaos, where the Spirit came in rushing wind and tongues of fire.
The quiet was boring. It was stagnant, lifeless and burdensome, to be avoided at all costs. God was living, moving and active–what place could the quiet possibly have in God’s character and kingdom?
The quiet isn’t vacant, barren or desolate. Like the God who works in and through it, the quiet is vibrant, dynamic and very much alive.
God is at work in the quiet, too
Yet Opa’s words continued to echo as I grew, and I began to discover that God was also at work in and through the quiet I was so desperate to ignore. The God whose fire ignited Elijah’s drenched kindling was also the God revealed to Elijah in “sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12); the Christ who purged the “den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13) was also the Christ who prayed alone in quiet Gethsemane; the Spirit of Pentecost was also the Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation.
It’s much easier to see God in miracles and theophanies, in thundering voice and pillar of cloud, in the shining light of transfiguration and the supernatural exodus of ascension. And to be sure, God is very much present and active in these moments. But Opa understood that God is also at work in the quiet, in the stillness and silence that we can all too easily pass over if we aren’t paying attention.
The quiet isn’t vacant, barren or desolate. Like the God who works in and through it, the quiet is vibrant, dynamic and very much alive. All we need to do is listen.
Hannah Hawkinson is an intern for Gather magazine and a master of divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.