In the most unexpected places, God appears. To a shepherd in the desert, the voice of God emerges from a burning bush. A young boy bedding down for the night after a day’s work hears someone calling his voice: not the voice of his carer, but the voice of God. Another man beats his donkey for continually refusing to move, only to hear it speak back to him: the voice of God coming from his mouth. Time after time God enters into conversation with us, arresting us in the middle of something routine and inviting us into deeper communion with him.
Of course there are those who would argue that God no longer speaks to us so directly, in the midst of life’s unfolding. “In these last days, God has spoken to us by a Son,” they quote from the opening to Hebrews, implying that God has ceased doing what he did for centuries. Yet we continue to hear the testimonies of modern-day saints who recognised the unmistakeable voice of God. Peter Marshall speaks of his conversion and call to ministry in these terms, and later rose to become chaplain to the U.S. Senate as part of a pivotal ministry in Washington D.C.
But this tempts us to believe that hearing God’s speaking is only related to ministries of such fame as these. Yet within the gospels we find ordinary people - whose names have been lost to history and whose life stories are unknown - encountering Jesus and receiving a word from God, a healing touch, a new direction, some merely tacit permission to continue what they are doing.
When Ev returned from an early constitutional at the start of the recent week, she spoke of a powerful experience while sitting quietly in the Melbourne Aquarium. Sitting alone in the dome at the centre of the aquarium, she noticed all the fish were swimming in the same direction, except for four. She marvelled at those who swam against the tide, wondering at their boldness and purpose. Why did they choose a different path? In this setting she had a clear insight: this was both the gospel call and what we were doing as a church community. At the same time it was encouraging and perplexing, affirming and questioning: why do these fish choose to swim against the current? What drives them? What sustains them?
While the questions remain, the encouragement was evident. In that quiet place, where thousands of people pass regularly, one woman encountered God. It is the repeating gospel story, the narrative which echoes through history: that God is not remote from us, not withdrawn, but ever-present, ready to encounter us in the midst of ordinary moments.
To meet those who are awake to the possibility. And still enough to discern.
October 9, 2005