On the Sunday after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, when Orlando was still raw in its grief, I struggled to find words of hope for my congregation. My passage for the day was 1 Kings 19, in which Elijah—after experiencing a great wind, earthquake, and fire—finally encounters God in a small, quiet voice.
I wanted to write beautiful, comforting words about a burnt-out prophet revived by God. But I found myself standing like Elijah on that mountain, and all I could hear was the wind, splitting and breaking. All I could hear was the thunder of gunshots in a nightclub in Orlando. Thunder spit as more shots rang out a year ago to that day in a Charleston church, as people gathered to pray. And now, as I write, even more thunder: two African American men shot and killed by police officers, and five police officers shot and killed by a sniper.
With so much noise, the beautiful words stuck in my throat, and I was afraid.
In Florida, 49 people were dead and another 53 wounded — many of them Latino/a Americans in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community — shot by a man who believed God was on his side. In response, some Americans called for vengeance, contemplating attacks even on American Muslims, all while believing God was on their side.
And that’s why I stood there, stuck in the wind and the fire, unable to move past that first line of our Scripture text.
Our passage began with a reminder that Elijah — dear Elijah who helped the widow and her son, the prophet venerated by our text, the man wracked by pain over the murder of his friends and fellow prophets — has just killed 450 people (prophets of Baal). Murdered them. In cold blood. And he did so believing God was on his side.
I was afraid to think God could be like this.
But as I kept reading, something unexpected happened after Elijah laid down in despair.
An angel of God appeared, encouraging Elijah to get up and eat. It’s something that those of us trained in grief counseling know to be essential: he invited Elijah back to daily life. He gave him bread and water. He touched him. He got Elijah moving.
God then spoke directly with Elijah, but God’s voice wasn’t in the violent storm; God whispered in a “still, small voice.” The Common English Bible says, “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”
This voice told Elijah that he was not alone.
God took this awful thing — that which was not God — and turned it into an opportunity for community and divine encounter, a chance for prophets to arise.
And indeed, as I stood there, on the mountain, searching, I heard God.
I heard American Muslims speaking a message of solidarity with the victims.
I heard thousands of Orlando residents lifting candles in the dark sky in vigil for the victims.
I heard Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda cry, “We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrance that hope and love last forever.”
I heard churches offering grief counseling, food, and free funerals, saying, “This is my brother, this is my sister.”
I heard the LGBTQ community proudly declare their love and refuse to answer hate with hate.
I heard the father of victim Mercedez Marisol Flores say through tears “I forgive the boy,” the shooter.
And when I heard that Westboro Baptist Church would be there to protest the funerals of the victims, I also heard that angels would be there. Angels not so different from that angel who visited Elijah all those years ago. People who, dressed as angels, spread out those giant, beautiful wings to shut out the hate.
God is here, after all. For I have heard the quiet sound of love. I have heard the cry of Hallelujah at a funeral. I have heard singing when there was no reason to sing. I have heard a still, small voice that, after the last lash of the whip and the last hammer of the nail, spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
I have heard God whisper. And it wasn’t in the violence. It wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. It was in the peace that followed. It was in the love that could not be broken.
And, you know, suddenly I didn’t feel so afraid anymore.