“After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”
1 Kings 19:12 (Common English Bible)
My first trip into Washington D.C. was in 1988, attending the College of Preachers located in the National Cathedral. Driving into the city my eyes fell upon the Pentagon – something I had previously seen only in pictures. Looming large out the right side of my windshield, the impressive structure accomplished the intention of the architect – communicate the presence of the most powerful military force in the world. Though I am proud to be a U.S. citizen, I am a Christian first. And this military center of our nation represented values contrary to the purposes of Christ. A chill gripped me and I was momentarily shaken. Not because our nation had a military force. Even Israel has such a force to protect its freedoms. I was shaken by the enormity of its power.
I prayed – eyes wide open, watching the highway that stretched out in front of me. My prayer wasn’t clear. My head wasn’t clear. I simply didn’t know how to process the unsettledness tumbling within. My father served proudly in the U.S. Navy, as did my father-in-law. Regularly I thank women and men who are in the military or who have served. I thank them for their sacrifice, their service. My prayers for our troops mark my daily prayers. Yet, I was shaken, uncomfortable with the large footprint of our nation’s military might. My prayer was not uncommon. Many times I have inquired of God how to pray. I am troubled by this and that and simply do not know how to pray. “Lord, what do I do with this fear, this uneasiness within?”
I turned off of the highway and onto a surface street, navigating my way to the National Cathedral. My speed reduced along a beautifully landscaped avenue, I noticed a public park, also out the right side of my windshield. This pleasant, bucolic escape from my anxiety was welcomed. This park now occupied the space that was once filled with the enormity of the Pentagon building. The churning, troubled spirit within remained but no longer at the same intensity, no longer causing a death grip on the innocent steering wheel of my car. My prayer continued, thanking God for the change of view from the driver’s seat, thanking God that my unsettledness was easing, though only a little.
Traffic dropped my speed to a crawl. More time could safely be given to gazing at the park. Suddenly, God’s hand was on my shoulder. Located in the same trajectory as the Pentagon from my driver’s seat was a park bench. Seated on the bench was a young woman – approximately my age – in prayer. In her hand was a rosary – a helpful prayer tool used by Roman Catholics. In that moment I was calm, all unsettledness now dissipated. Of the two images – the Pentagon and the exercise of prayer – I was quite certain in which of the two real power dwelt. Each day you and I must choose between the clamor of human strength and power and the silent consecration to God in prayer, between the world’s display of self-assurance and the thin, quiet presence of God.