This entry was first published in the Gallup Independent's "Spiritual Perspectives"
on September 22/2018
When I was a child I was attracted to stories about God speaking to humans. There was Moses at the burning bush, Mary visited by an angel, the boy Samuel hearing God in the middle of the night. There were the prophets whose tales begin, "The word of the Lord came to me" at such and such a time, in such and such a place. I wanted God to speak to me, and I asked my father about it. He said God didn't need to speak to us today, because the Bible told us everything God wanted us to know. I thought because the Bible says God never changes, God should still want to talk to us directly.
I do think the Holy One still speaks to us, but maybe it's not as dramatic as from a burning bush or through an angel. Since the days when my father and I talked about it, I've wondered if sometimes when "the word of the Lord" came to those prophets, maybe it wasn't that different from how God speaks to us today.
Take, for example, this story about the prophet Jeremiah. He wrote, "The Lord told me, 'Jeremiah, go to the pottery shop, and when you get there, I will tell you what to say to the people.' I went there and saw the potter making clay pots on his pottery wheel. And whenever the clay would not take the shape he wanted, he would change his mind and form it into some other shape.Then theLord told me to say:'People of Israel, I, the Lord, have power over you, just as a potter has power over clay. If I threaten to uproot and shatter an evil nation, and that nation turns from its evil, I will change my mind.If I promise to make a nation strong, but its people start disobeying me and doing evil, then I will change my mind and not help them at all.'"
As a child, I must have thought God said all this to Jeremiah in a big, booming voice. But what if it happened like this instead:
Jeremiah was about to wash his face before breakfast. He picked up his water jug and dropped it on the flagstones in his kitchen. It smashed to smithereens, and he said a few choice words. Then he thought, "Now I have to go down to the pottery shop and buy a new jug when I was planning to sit at my desk and write this morning." So he headed off, all grumpy. To top it off, the potter was busy throwing pots and didn't get up right away to help him. Jeremiah had to sit and wait, and while he waited, he watched—but not very patiently. The potter wasn't having the best day either. She [I know, the text says the potter was a guy, but just bear with me] kept finding fault with the pot she was making, so she broke it back down into a lump of clay.
Suddenly a light went on in Jeremiah's mind. "The potter is like God," he thought, "and the clay is like us, like the people of Israel. God's mind is changeable, depending on how we people respond." Hopefully, after having that insight, it didn't take too much longer for the potter to get up and help Jeremiah with his order, so the prophet could get back to his desk, where he wrote, "The Lord told me, Jeremiah, go to the pottery shop…"
The important thing is, in whatever way God spoke to him, Jeremiah was conscious of God in the details of his life. He was waiting, ready to hear God's voice, even when it came to him in the form of a broken water jug and a dissatisfied potter. I think God still talks to us in the details of our everyday lives when we listen, when we maintain conscious contact with the Holy One.
Once when I went for a drive over the mountain near my home, a small hawk had just picked up a mouse and started to fly across the road in front of me. The mouse was weighing the hawk down, and it couldn't rise fast enough to avoid my car. It dropped the mouse and got away just in time. The mouse would have made a good meal for the hawk, but dropping it saved the bird's life. I was having trouble letting go of something big at the time, and I realized when the hawk flew to safety that there was a cost in letting go, but that it was a matter of spiritual life and death for me. I think the Holy One spoke to me through the hawk that day.