“Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.”
Charles Wesley, “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending”.
Everyone is always quick to assure me that God speaks out of silence, usually using Elijah’s experience as evidence (1 Kings 19). They make it sound like if I just sit for long enough and ignore the fire and the earthquake, I’ll be more likely to hear the voice of God. Granted, all the great Mystics say it is far easier to hear the voice of God in a silent heart, but I think this kind of experience is reserved for the Prophets and for the Saints — for the real Christians.
I am not Elijah. I am neither a prophet or the son of a prophet. So, I wonder if I get the privilege of “a still small voice”. That room I used to go to in my heart in order to hear God now only rings with deafening silence. A sticky film of dust covers everything. There’s a sign hanging that says, “Back in five” — but that’s been dangling there for a few years. Timeless words of open lips and proclaimed praise echo in the darkness. My heart beats; it thunders in my ears.
What about the rest of us, the fake Christians? Do you remember the passage in Exodus when Moses received the law (19 & 20)? Moses hears the voice of God. Everyone else only experiences swirling clouds, thunder and lighting. Everybody else experiences God in all these bombastic forms that Elijah ignores. They did not have the liberty to ignore that monstrous, bulbous cloud that hid the Divine from their eyes.
If at that the foot of that mountain, would one of our modern spiritual masters have told us to keep quiet? Would he have reminded us to meditate? Or would this bourgeois Bodhisattva’s courage buckle with deep wails towards the theophany of the Lord so frightening, so beyond all he’d ever experienced, that his words would choke in his throat? After all, the God of glory thunders.
Maybe for us, the fake Christians, any interaction with the Divine would be more akin to a storm, to fire and an earthquake. Maybe when God speaks to us, all we experience is swirling chaos. Maybe all we experience is a storm of confusing emotion and wildly darting thoughts. Maybe when God speaks to us, it is more like a horror movie than idle pastorale. Maybe the voice of God is all the stuff that scares the shit out of us.
Maybe we don’t hear God because He scares the shit out of us. After all, sometimes, to get to the silence, you’ve got to go through the fire and be frightened by the earthquake, with Christ taking your hand through it all.
And, yet, I listen to whatever I hear. Some days, it is a chaotic churning deep within, spinning out new fears and doubts like forgotten shouts. Most days, there is only silence, though. I listen to it anyway. I listen to them both, bending with my lamp towards the east, awaiting the sunrise, up on that mountain. It hasn’t come. Perhaps it will. Ancient words echo. My heart beats. It hasn’t come. I listen to whatever I hear.
And I hear the dead speaking. I hear Camus, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard. I hear Augustine and Gregory. I hear Teresa and John. I hear Julian and Mrs. Underhill. Peter, Abraham and Paul. I hear my grandfathers. I hear believers and unbelievers alike, up on that mountain. Their words chase, frighten me and tease me. They are here on this mountain with their lit lamps, too, bending towards the sunrise. It hasn’t come. Perhaps it will. The dull, dark blue of predawn hides their faces from my eyes. They wait with heartbeats echoing.
I hear the dead speaking. I listen. I try to talk back, but my voice is lost in the wind, in the gathering storm on the edge of the horizon. The wind picks up; the lightning blinds my eyes. My knees buckle and I have a hard time breathing as It approaches. Is this It? Wincing together, we link arms, awaiting our fate. Perhaps this is It. A blast shakes the ground, the sky rolls back and the world dissolves into ashes . . .
My faith is more a product of the dead than the living. I’ve only heard God speak because they’d managed through the fire, the earthquake and the storm. Because they held onto Christ and believed. I believe what they heard from the silence. I hear because they heard. I believe because they believed. My fake, weak faith is linked with theirs and, together, our faith is strong.