The Voice of God

Shortly after I started writing yesterday’s lectionary reflection post, I watched the broadcast of Jesse Ventura on Larry King Live that we’d recorded the night before, as Mr. Ventura answered the question about whether he was going to run for Senate from Minnesota.  You can see the broadcast here, though it was his answer to that question that was most interesting to me, particularly in the context of Sunday’s lections and my musings on them.  Mr. Ventura spoke skeptically about President Bush’s assertion that God told him that the US should invade Iraq, and he said that he did not plan to run for Senate, unless God came to him that night and told him he should.

I will admit to the sin of envy when it comes to those who hear God’s voice speaking to them in words, clear as a bell.  The bible said Noah walked with God, and tells of others like Moses and Abraham and Jacob who were on first-name speaking terms with God.  This is frustrating to me, because I don’t remember ever hearing God speak to me in words, in clear terms that cannot be misunderstood.  I am more likely to hear vague whispers, to feel yearnings in my heart, to find meaning in the flowers and the winds and the faces of the people in my life.  Even when I had a very clear dream that included God, a series of recurring dreams that were a clue-by-four which could not be misunderstood, God still did not actually speak to me in words.  I had to puzzle out the meaning for myself.

So I’m torn.  I don’t want to say God can’t speak to anyone in words, and I don’t want to say that God never does speak to anyone in words.  But I am suspicious when someone says God told me this.  I wonder, how did God tell you this?  And how do you know that it was God and not some other spirit?  When we hear those voices, whether they be whispers in the heart or shouts to the mind, we have to do some kind of discernment to figure out where they’re coming from and what they mean.  I have a really hard time with the idea that God wants us to wage war, that God wants us to commit acts of violence.  Despite the stories in Joshua and Judges and Samuel and Chronicles, despite Miriam’s song and dance of joy on the banks of the Red Sea – despite all of this, I just know that God weeps when God’s children harm each other.

And even the Ignatian ideas about discernment of spirits – if you’re walking on the path of Light, then God’s spirits will be encouraging while the Enemy will be frightening, but if you’re on a path of sin, then God’s spirits will be frightening while the Enemy is comforting and encouraging – these are very helpful, if you are certain what kind of path you are on.  This is where it is so important to have a soul-friend, like the Celtic anam chara, who can help you shine the light on your path to see where it is headed, who can help you listen to what those voices are saying and what they really mean.

God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort and complacency.  God is constantly drawing us out of our comfort zones and into places of vulnerability and risk.  It is hard to find God in comfort, but God can always be found in those crazy boundary places, the places that are unpredictable, risky, scary.  When we are comfortable, we can close ourselves off to new things – ironically, when we’re best equipped to handle those new things! – but God finds us in our vulnerable places.  When we choose to open ourselves up, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, that is when God walks in.

Mr. Ventura sounded very closed off, very comfortable.  He did not sound vulnerable.  He issued a challenge to God: if you’re so big and awesome and mighty, then show me already! But Mr. Ventura didn’t sound ready for the challenges that might come.  And we can always find God’s challenges.

  • Feed my sheep.
  • Love one another as I have loved you.
  • Love God with all of your being.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Give drink to the thirsty and shelter to those away from home.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Tend to those who are suffering.
  • Visit people in prison.
  • Take care of each other.

These things are stated in very clear words in the bible.  We may not hear those clear words directly from God’s voice, into our ears.  But God still says these things.  God speaks to us in the appearance of the lady who pushes her shopping cart through the parking lot every day and mumbles crazy things at those who walk past.  God speaks to us in the faces of children who come to the soup kitchen to be fed.  God speaks to us in the rejoicing of a couple who has just married.  God speaks to us in the tears of the co-worker who has lost her mother to cancer.  God speaks to us in the songs we sing, in the words we pray, in the bread and wine each Sunday.

So the answer I would give to Mr. Ventura is that God might be telling him to run for Senate.  Does he see the crazy shopping cart lady or the hungry children or the rejoicing couple (who might just both be men) or the grieving woman?  Does he sing the songs or pray the words or break the bread and share the wine?  Does he hear God whisper when the wind blows through the trees or when a child cries or when a person sings?  God is speaking to us all the time.  But I think we have to learn God’s language to understand what God is saying.  And God’s language is the language of tears, laughter, wind, and rain.  It is the language of weeping, gnashing of teeth, of hail and of snow.  It is the language of poetry, of song.  God’s language pierces to the heart like an arrow, and it stays there, thrumming through us until we recognize it.