“The Lord said [to Elijah], ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-12).
Last week, I took a week off at the Haven to take students to a Younglife camp called Lake Champion in southern New York. While physically away from the Haven, one particular idea travelled with me and swirled around my head during this brief change of scenery. As I wrote about earlier in the summer, I experienced one moment with a dollar bill that brought out the idea that God resides in the innocuous. Rather than revealing something profound, God “takes the mundane and makes it miraculous.” While the surroundings changed, this thought did not, but rather grew more prominent in my theological process. Outside of my normal circumstances, these seemingly unimportant moments were even more noticeable as acts of kindness, concern and care led to monumental changes in the lives of those who experienced camp. Camp became somewhat of a theological laboratory in which I could not only participate but also observe as students interacted with one another and participated in theological thought for potentially the first time together.
Utilizing Ekblad’s practice of using the stories of the Bible pragmatically in the context of our own lives, this section of 1 Kings came to mind in relation to interactions at camp. God does not reveal himself to the prophet Elijah in the monumental moments of the wind, earthquake and fire. Rather, God comes in the quietest of whispers. Why? What is the purpose of this meek, personal depiction of God that is clearly contrasted with the tremendous and powerful forces of nature? God came to Elijah in a whisper not because he had to and not because it was the only way, but possibly to teach Elijah about how he interacts with us. The brute force and pageantry of the natural forces at work were not where God resided but rather in the everyday, ultra-personal intimacy of a whisper. Perhaps that is how God looks at the small. To the average person, the grandeur of one large, sweeping gesture is valued infinitely more than the humility of a thousand small gestures. But what if God sees the inherent faith of the small? While we invest our time attempting to repeat and conjure meaningful moments, maybe God honors the small leaps of faith and kindness found in the day to day.
Often times, I find that God seems to delight in taking my preconceived notions of what is possible and flipping them on their head in the most unlikely of ways. The Bible is full of stories in which people from all walks of life are exposed to this seemingly paradoxical nature of God including Elijah as shown above. Entering my internship, I believed that change in the world came from a desire to accumulate “big moments.” Every week, I depended upon these moments to consistently fill me with inspiration to write posts and learn countless theological concepts in grand explosions of inspiration. While that may happen on occasion, depending on these moments will only let us down. Instead, God resides in the whispers in our lives. They infiltrate in the small acts of kindness shown from high schooler to high schooler at Younglife camp. They thrive in the warm welcome that guests receive with breakfast at the Haven. These whispers penetrate every commonplace interaction we have with another human being. Rather than focusing on the presentation of a “big moment” God chooses to connect a million small whispers together to transform the lives of everyday people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses. The only challenge is that we must be brave enough to sit quietly and listen and notice when they occur.
With all of this in mind, how does hospitality reflect these seemingly unimportant instances emphasized at camp and in 1 Kings? Why is this important for the Haven and a theology of hospitality? To me, the intake shelter at the Haven is full of these small opportunities. In the same way that Younglife camp gave high school students an opportunity to enter a time of theological reflection, the volunteer has that same opportunity in the kitchen and front desk of the shelter. In both situations, the volunteer and the student sit in spaces where small, seemingly insignificant acts are used in God’s in-breaking work. Just like Elijah, we could be expecting the wind to roar, the earthquake to shake the Earth, and the fire to consume our problems, strife or doubt. Instead, God comes in whispers of hope in the most innocuous of encounters that lead to relationships, friendships and transformation. Our expectations are shattered by the God of the small things, and we are left with a better understanding of God’s presence in our daily lives.