How Does God Speak To Us?

In order to  explore the question of how God speaks to us, we need to identify some of our assumptions in language and thinking? What or who is God in our lives? Are there ways that communication happens outside of physical speech? Is there a different way to listen for “God’s voice,” than how we listen to another person?

For me, God’s voice is clothed in the garments of my world. In a moment, I will step out into the sunshine and a busy day with cars bustling by and people engaged in all kinds of interaction and activity. If I slow down and listen, I will hear birds in the trees up above and feel a slight breeze on my face. I know that I am a part of the ongoing creative process of life and while everything around me is a player in my world, I play a role in everyone else’s world. For the significant people in my life, I am a main character, and for most, I am an extra, a walk-on, someone who helps build the background.

Most of my environment around me is insignificant in my moment to moment reality. Even though I know intellectually that it isn’t so, I interact with the world as if it is a series of objects in the world. I know how to navigate – how to say the appropriate things to get what I want or need in a store or my children’s school. I know how to operate the car to get from one place to the next. I have a vision or thought of what I want to create – what my agenda is at any given moment, and everything around me is there to help me realize what is in my mind.

Is God present in this reality I’ve described? No. In my moments of narcissism – of relating to the world as objects – as a play where I’ve written every word, there is only room for a frozen conception of meaning and purpose. Maybe an agenda or to-do list that I cooked up just this morning, or maybe a story that I’ve been telling myself for years about what is real. Either way, there is no room for real relationship, for me to recognize that another person or some aspect of the natural world is wholly other – different from me.

With an awareness of the world around me not as a collection objects, but entire worlds of unknown treasure, I become open to interactions that could bring something new, something different, something surprising. I become open to something radical and fresh to transpire between us. I become open to God’s presence.

When I notice the uniqueness and aliveness of any moment, any encounter, or any thought, God is speaking to me. Most of the time, it is not a distinct message, crafted in language and linear thinking. However, all my experiences of God’s speech carry the singular message – “You are not alone. I am with you.” This consistent message suggests that the ultimate purpose of God’s speech is to make His presence known and as an expression of compassion. God’s speech expresses compassion because She knows how isolating it can be to be a human being, and the fundamental message is to contradict that experience of being alone.

In addition to that fundamental message, sometimes God brings insight to various aspects of our lives. We experience a new perspective or understanding of ourselves or a situation that has been troubling. Sometimes this understanding comes as an original thought when we least expect it. Sometimes it comes from a friend, family member, or complete stranger. Since I have the capacity to find meaning and purpose in any event or experience, I can experience it in my children’s words as God’s voice if it helps me access truth or wisdom in a new way.

Many years ago, I was terrified to tell my six year old that my wife and I were getting divorced. I was afraid of his grief. After we explained to him what was happening and why we believed it was happening, he cried and was sad. As some tears subsided, he looked up at us and said, “You did the best you can.” In that moment, the acknowledgement and acceptance that I experienced was the deepest voice of the universe consoling my ex-wife and I, dissipating our fear, and holding us in love. God was speaking to us.

Why do these experiences of presence or insight need to be articulated as God’s speech? By explaining these experiences of God speaking to us, we can head down a slippery and dangerous slope. I have different voices in my head about all kinds of things – voices of anger, voices of despair, voices that articulate certain ideas about the world. What will keep me from attributing God to a particular voice that turns out not to be a voice of clarity and wisdom, but something that causes me to choose devastation and despair?

The Torah describes God’s act of creation as an act of speech. God said, “Yehi Or” – Let there be light. And this act of creation is not only understood as something that happened thousands of years ago, but something that happens at every moment. In our morning prayers, we say Hamechadesh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid maaseh bereshit – “He is continually renewing the work of creation everyday with goodness.” The idea is that God is continually creating every moment with speech. Why talk about it this way? This conceptualization of ongoing creation speaks to our human experience of the world. Our own experience of creativity and work has language at it’s root. Arising with our desire to create anything from small to large, is thought of what it is. Even those of us that think primarily in pictures are labeling those pictures with words as they arise in our minds. Our world is mediated through language. When we articulate our own inner world, we do it through language. Even non-verbal expressions like music and dance have a cohesive language all their own. We articulate the experience of presence and insight as God’s speech because language is how we communicate as humans and we want to designate deep language and understanding as something different and special than the usual day to day experience of language that we are immersed in. By attributing this deep understanding to God, we are compelled to pay attention and act accordingly.

It is true that we can try to give power and weight to our fears, insecurities, and fantasies by attributing God’s speech to them. When we put the voice of God behind narcissistic needs and desires, we create a dangerous fire. We all have seen the horrific results of people in this country and abroad who disenfranchise,  belittle and destroy other human beings because they believe that they have God on their side. Anyone can read the Torah, the Gospels, or the Koran in ways that justify mistreatment of others. This is the dark side and the danger of framing our experience of the world as God speaking to us. We need to have a strong self-awareness to recognize the inner voices that come from our fears and our small selves as they are – nothing more, nothing less. We also need to have teachers – of scripture, of spiritual practice, of life who embody the qualities that we want to manifest in ourselves. When we witness people who live life with compassion and understanding, we know that they can have something to teach us about hearing God’s voice – about discerning the voices inside us. We can trust them because their actions and presence show us that they are embodying God’s voice – they are living it.

The opportunity that comes with being open to a dimension of our experience as God speaking to us, is that we begin to pay closer attention to reality that we are not alone. We pay closer attention to authentic experiences of insight about our life. We trust our gut, our intuition more because we have framed these voices as being ones of truth, of depth. By allowing ourselves to hear these voices as God’s voice, we don’t have to second guess ourselves and distrust our experiences. We allow ourselves to live in a world where we don’t have all the answers, where there is infinite opportunities for meaning, understanding, and connection – where we are always learning. And where we allow ourselves to be guided – the quintessential experience of protection and trust.

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