Sometimes you just need to listen to your friends.
Fire is a powerful symbol. Recently, some spiritually-minded friends got me in the habit of lighting a candle as a symbol and reminder of the sacred space that surrounds me in God’s presence. The idea was a bit strange at first, as someone who grew up Protestant. But now I see that candle burning on my kitchen counter every day and it reminds me: God is always near.
There’s an interesting story in the Hebrew Scriptures about how when the people of Israel escaped Egypt and camped out at the foot of Mount Sinai, God would speak to them audibly in a way that sounded like thunder. Fire and smoke would descend on the mountain, and there would be thunder and lightning, the ground would shake, and God would speak out of the blazing fire. Understandably, it scared the crap out the people. It didn’t take long before they were begging Moses to make it stop. “We can’t listen to the LORD’s voice anymore or see this great fire any longer! You speak to us and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us any longer or we’ll die.” Funny. Give some people a little taste of the supernatural, and they’ll be backing away from it pretty quick.
This is where this week’s lectionary reading picks up. Moses comforts the people. “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people … This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die'” (Dt 18).
This really strikes me. We’ve all had moments of calling out to the Heavens and asking for guidance, a sign, some miracle — something to let us know that It is listening, that we’re not alone. This God — who we saw last week in the story of Jonah, speaking — SO wants to communicate with us that he’ll go through other people to get to us if we can’t hear it directly ourselves.
This is pretty good news to me because I’m one of those people who sometimes (most times?) have a hard time hearing from God directly. But I’ve got friends who try to stay spiritually sensitive, who are often more open than I am to the impressions in the spirit. And we talk. God is still speaking. Sometimes he just has to speak through others.
This is an important point. So much so, in fact, that in another biblical story God lambasts the people for seeking advice from the stars or through spirits. “Should not a people inquire of their God?” In one of his great songs, King David wrote, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me … This poor man called, and the LORD heard him….” We’re told in the New Testament that God will speak through a wide variety of ways — through visions, dreams, intuitions and impressions, through humans and angels, through nature and the spectacular creation, and through our sacred texts. All channels are open and broadcasting, it seems.
Here’s the point. God WANTS to speak to you. You are part of God’s soul, God’s being. And your soul is humming with his presence. You are a deeply-loved human being whom he created with great joy. And it is your birthright, your inheritance as a human being, “created in the image of God,” to be in touch with that Divine Voice.
But don’t feel too bad if you’re not picking up the signals too clearly for yourself sometimes. Because you’ve probably got friends who are sensing something. “The LORD your God will raise up a prophet for you from among your own people,” someone who IS picking up that signal. And if they’re your friends, they’re likely more than ready to drop some hard wisdom on you if you’ll give them the time (and maybe a cup of coffee).
But I’ll shut up now. And just look over at my candle. It’s not a mountain on fire, and it’s not sparking any lightning. But it is reminding me that there’s still a subtle presence surrounding me, surrounding us. And it’s probably talking.