Throughout recorded history people of all different cultures and religions have been listening for the sounds of God speaking. Genesis begins with “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
Throughout the scriptures people recognize God in the forces of nature: the sounds of water and wind and earthquakes. In the New Testament, they hear the sound of God most notably in Acts 2:1-4:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
God’s presence appeared in wind and fire, and they too were able to speak and be understood.
God speaks to Adam and Eve, to Noah and Abraham and Job, to prophets and kings and ordinary people. They seem to be attuned to the voice of God, although sometimes I think they heard it wrong. They were just listening to their own egos, and desires for riches or revenge. We all do that, mistakenly attributing what we’re hearing to God.
In the UCC we say: Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God is Still Speaking. How do we hear that still speaking voice in a world filled with sounds competing for our attention? Frederick Buechner says we hear it “in the humdrum, helter-skelter events of each day.”
One day last week I went out to fetch my newspaper. It was early and the birds were chirping away. What a beautiful sound to greet me in the morning. It was as if God were saying “Good morning, Susan. Have a wonderful day.”
Later I walked to the gym. It’s about a 15-minute walk. As soon as I turned the corner of my relatively quiet side street onto a busy one, the sounds of the birds disappeared, replaced by the sound of what? - traffic. Every so often there would be a brief break in the traffic and I could hear the birds again. It was as if the sounds of God were competing with the sounds of the world we have created. So many sounds in our man-made world feel harsh, intrusive: What sounds make you want to put ear plugs in?
traffic, sirens, gun shots, blaring music, heavy machinery breaking up concrete outside my office window, then drills, electric saws, pounding, televisions and loud music in restaurants - people screaming over it
These sounds keep us grounded in this world we have made.
But there are other sounds that lift you to another realm. Years ago I was taking a yoga retreat. One evening they had us lay on our mats and close our eyes as they filled the room with various sounds and vibrations, sometimes passing them close to us. It was as if we had ear phones on and the sounds were passing through our heads. We had no idea what was creating them. Our bodies became more and more relaxed, as if you were not aware of your body, and thoughts disappeared. You became attuned to the vibration that was being created. It was as if we were experiencing the sound of God.
Hindus chant OM at the beginning and end of their prayers creating a vibration. They chant it. Try it. OM. Can you feel it? They believe that from that “formless void and darkness that covered the face of the deep, came a sound vibration, and from there everything sprang into existence, and the material world was born.” Today quantum physicists have been studying the role of vibration at the root of all matter itself.
There have been so many experiences in my life where I felt I was hearing the voice or sound of God in my ordinary life: listening to monks singing the mass in Gregorian chant at the Vatican; the Muslim call to prayer in Israel five times a day; the sound of the wind in the Negev desert, interrupted only briefly by the sound of an airplane flying in the distance; the sound of ocean waves at Halibut Point. The sounds of God are all around us.
But it’s not always through sound that we hear the voice of God. So often when I’m struggling with something, maybe looking for ideas for a sermon, or an answer to a question, I wake up in the morning and the answer is there, and I thank God, because I think God is speaking to me in those moments, in my sleep. Have any of you had that experience?
Elijah was in need of a little instruction from God in our scripture passage from 1 Kings 19: 8-12:
He (Elijah) got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, (and they are loud, I can assure you) but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
God speaks to us in the silence. Mother Teresa once said:
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
It’s almost impossible to find total silence in our world today.
How often have you sat in total silence? how did it make you feel?
On the island of Iona I experienced the most profound silence that I’ve found anywhere. Sitting by the ocean you would be mesmerized by the sound of the waves, but once you walked around a rocky hill away from the sea, it was total silence. I stopped and listened for a sound and there was none. It was as if I was alone with God. Walking back toward the abbey it was so quiet that I could hear a sheep eating grass - even that was a sacred sound.
When does God talk to you? How do you hear the voice of God? What does it sound like? What sounds bring you closer to God?
Everyone talks around the tables and someone takes notes. Then we share with the group.