Genesis 3:8-9 (Common English Bible)
8 During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees.
9 The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
Holy and Loving God, you first called to them in the garden,
“where are you?”
And maybe you’re calling out to each of us now,
“where are you?”
Well we’re here at Reservoir Church this morning, but where’s our heart? Where’s our mind at? Maybe some of us are asking, Where are you God? Are you here? I pray that you would bring all of us, to right here to this moment. To find ourselves here, to find you here, to find one another in the presence of the other. Would you help us to hear the voice of God. Right here within us. That it may strike a chord within us, and transform us, through the power of your unconditional abundant love we pray, Amen.
A few months ago I took a solo flight to California. No kids, no husband. By myself, on a six hour flight, Thank you Friend Jesus. I was really looking forward to this quiet, uninterrupted, alone six hour flight. For the flight, I packed a book and earphones. I sat down and plugged it into the seat and started scrolling through the movies. I found one, a new release, one I’ve been wanting to see, “everything everywhere all at once.” Oh I was excited. I pushed play and the screen started to move, but I heard nothing. I turned the sound up. I unplugged and plugged back in the earphones. I go back to the menu and play something else, anything, and still there is no sound. At this point I’m starting to panic a little. I look around for the flight attendant, ah they look busy, I don’t want to be that guy, but I really want to be that guy, I pressed the button with the courage to speak up for my own needs. “The sound is not working?” I said, and they said, “okay, we’ll look into it.” I turned on the caption and watched the whole movie silently, with the earphone in my ear with no sound.
Today we’re looking at God as Voice. Not the voice of God, as an attribute of a God that is personified, but trying to see and understand God through the metaphor of Voice. What is Voice?
It can be someone’s words. It can be sound. But it can also be someone’s meaning/communication that is passed to another, like “you can really see the artist’s voice coming through” a painting. What would it look and feel like to imagine, that the experience of perceiving voice, is to experience God?
Rabbi Spitzer’s book, God is Here, has been informing these non-human metaphors for God we’ve been engaging with for the last few weeks. In this series, we’re less trying to see God as a person, but experiencing God as we might experience anything else in the world, which is not just with humans but with elements, things seen and unseen, through places, cloud, water and so forth. I want to help us distinguish the metaphor of The Voice from the attribute of the voice of God.
So whenever I say voice today, think, Capital V, Voice, not the voice of God. It feels a little weird, cause we’re trying to shift our familiar old pathways of thinking about God as a person, to God as an experience, bodily, visceral experience. It’s shifting us from thinking in our mind to understand, to feeling and experiencing and just receiving and noticing our bodies. Just as we’ve been learning more from science about just how smart the body is – how trauma lives in the body, how it’s not just the brain that carries all information of our experience, but each cell in the DNA holds the data – experiencing God, knowing the divine is not just a knowledge endeavor but a bodily experience. I’ll share with you today how Rabbi Spitzer invites us to see the experience of Voice, capital V, reveals the experience of God.
Think of a time when you’ve been to a music concert. A rock concert, a symphony, the club. Think about how your body felt, hearing the music. How certain sounds would make you feel things, get emotional, how a sound tingled your body or gave you goosebumps. To experience music or sound means that something is changing your body. It runs through you, cuts through your heart, changes the mood, affects your emotions, and afterwards, you’re a different person.
To showcase the Sound of God, Rabbi Spitzer highlights this text we read today. She starts with how in the beginning, it was “merely” a voice that spoke the world into existence, “Let there be light.” And in this story, where Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit, we’re introduced to the word kol, the sound. Spitzer points out that it actually says,
“They heard the kol of YHVH God walking around in the Garden, at the breezy time of day.”
Now when we’re translating, and reading, it’s hard to tell what verb goes with what noun. And Spitzer is proposing that it actually says more like
“the ‘Voice of God’ was walking around”
“hearing the sound of God walking around.”
There are no commas in the Hebrew Bible (actually there’s not even vowels actually in the original Torah!). That’s why Steve’s been telling us lately, we don’t know how to say YHWH, it might be Yehweh. Or it might be Yihwih, Yoohwooh. Sorry, was that irreverent? I like to say sometimes that I’m a very irreverent Reverend.
While I’m on a detour, let me just take a full turn off the exit for a minute because the view is so good here. The text keeps saying, the Man and his wife. As opposed to the man and the woman, or just them. And Lord God specifically asks
“where are you?”
to the man. Was God not looking for the woman? Or not talk to the woman directly, see here it says in the Bible, as some men have concluded in the access of the divine for women. Here’s a thing I like to point out as we read a text out of Genesis. You see, the Bible is a collection of stories. It’s not one cohesive well thought out story, as many preachers like to say and point out. Sure, there’s a full story of God we’re trying to get at, but the reality is, there’s a lot of opposing stories, and repeats of stories, and same stories with different motifs and agendas. The Jewish tradition was okay with lying differing texts right next to each other, some in not-so-chronological order, some in opposing theological views that debated with one another.
Genesis Chapter 3, this excerpt we read, is a part of a specific source. No, the first five books of the Bible weren’t all written by one guy Moses, but actually it’s a COLLECTION of many works and authors and sources, and traditions and times! that have been compiled together. And when we look at the first few chapters of Genesis, this is clear. That there are different sources.
There are two creation accounts. And we kept them both, right next to one another. It’s a little disorienting to read, if you read chronologically. In Genesis 1, you read the creation story, Day one, Day two, and so forth. And it was very good. God rests on the seventh day.
And then you get to Genesis 2 and we have what they call the Second Narrative, and you hear the creation story kind of all over again but different. The first narrative creates humans like this, Genesis 1:26
“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us (plural)….
So God created human beings in “his” own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Now the pronouns are all mixed up here, because God refers to Godself as Godselves, a plural us, and then, it says his image, but It created them, male and female. Again, it’s impossible to have direct translation and the gender or gender neutrality of the pronouns do not come through.
In the Second Narrative, humans are created by that story you might’ve heard, which is what Genesis 2 account is, Adam takes a nap, a rib is taken out,
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”
In which the word used here, Helper is the same word used in other texts to describe God as the Helper with capital H, a point that is not considered when placing women as merely an assistive role in some Christian circles, based on this text, saying that man was created first and then woman. Yes, in one creative narrative.
You might be able to guess which narrative I like more out of the two creation stories. I didn’t even know that there were two creation stories until I went to seminary. No one told me that there are two accounts and each comes from a specific tradition. Two traditions that talk about God and our origins in two different ways.
Why is that a threat to our understanding of God? Because, of course, some folks somewhere along the way, tried to drown out a voice, by saying this one voice is the true and only source of truth, when all along, there were multiple voices and that it was okay to listen to both!
So that is my feminist exegesis (fancy word of drawing meaning out of the Bible) of Genesis 1-3. Okay. Back to our regular programming.
When we look at and notice the Voice, Kol, of God, we actually discover that it’s not even about the words. What God said. Or even about the sound. What it sounds like. The voice of God is not what you expect. God is actually the opposite of what we expect. Rabbi Spitzer mentions a friend of hers, Rabbi Darby Leigh, who is deaf, talking about the voice of God as not sound but vibration. Vibration as God. Which runs through everything. Which different vibrations running through us in various forms changes us, has an impact on us.
- Does God change you?
- Does it impact you?
- Does God run through your body?
Spitzer also points to another story. When the Voice at Sinai has a game-changing impact on the Israelites, when they received what’s traditionally known as the 10 commandments. It did something to them. And people were afraid, saying to Moses,
“You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”
You know why I think they said that? Cause when we really hear what God has to say, it makes us uncomfortable. It changes everything. I don’t want everything to change. I wanna gain tips here and there, and receive a nice word. I don’t want to hear something and be completely changed, that is if I am comfortable. OR, if you are someone who is in desperate need of something to finally change, then yeah it’s a welcomed change. When you look out into the world and everything you see is centered around you and works for you, you don’t want it to change. But when everything you see, for some reason, it just does not make sense and you don’t know why but it feels like there’s gotta be something else going on. Which one are you?
Last text I’ll share with you from Rabbi Spitzer about voice of God is from Elijah in 1st Kings.
1 Kings 19:11-13 (New International Version)
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1
3 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I love how Rabbi Spitzer offers us a whole new light to texts I’ve heard all my life. She says, “And finally, after the fire, a kol d’mama daka–which can be translated as “a thin, silent voice” or perhaps “a sound of soft silence.”
I’ve heard it translated as a “small still voice.” And I looked at each of the words in the Hebrew dictionary, and my translation variations are, “sound of the quiet,” “call of the still and small” “a call of the quiet.”
God is the call of the quiet. God is in the sound of the small. God is in the stillness. One of the translations of the word “still” is “crushed.” God is the sound of the crushed.
And why does this translation make me emotional?
Because I know what it’s like to feel crushed. To be silenced. To have to be still and quiet. To be needed to be tamed and told to be demure. Oh and yes, I will point out that I learned the word D’mamah is a feminine word.
Where is God? This whole series is called God is here. Well according to this scripture revelation, God is not here with the preacher with the mic. Who is silent right now? Who’s heart is vibrating in the stillness? What is God saying to you?
I remember one time I was preaching and I lost my place in my notes and I was just like frozen looking for my place on the page a good 15 seconds I think. And after the sermon, someone was like, omg that sermon, ugh, and that moment actually when you lost your place in your notes, was so rich! I was like, “yeah~”. When I said nothing at all, it was so powerful.
Rabbi Spitzer suggested going on a week-long silent retreat. Ha! I would hate that. I’ve been on a day silent retreat before and the whole time I was anxious. It’s like busy moms talk about, after the kids have gone off to school and you finally get time to yourself, it’s like I don’t know, I’m out of practice, what do I even do with myself and all this silence?
I think being silent is scary. I think being alone with the clearest reflection of yourself is scary. It’s like the car mirror. The lighting is too good compared to your bathroom. There’s six windows of natural light in that thing, too much clarity is not good for your confidence.
I do notice, even though I’ve been saying it’s not the words or even the sound that matters, I do notice the two texts of the Voice saying,
“Where are you?”
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Where are you? What are you doing here? I think that’s the invitation of the Voice. That’s the invitation of God, asking, inquiring of you. Making the space for you, for your voice.
Well so let me end with that, those questions and some silence. I’ll give us some space and ask the two questions three times. And I’ll end in a prayer for us.
Feel free to close your eyes. Even put a cloak over your face if you want.
Where are you? What are you doing here?
Where are you? What are you doing here?
Where are you? What are you doing here?
In the stillness, you are there God. We want to notice you. We want to feel your presence. We need you… to pull us from the cacophony of this busy world, ground us from the restless grasping of our minds, for our souls are indeed restless until we find our rest in you. Give us peace. Help us to bring ourselves to find you in the silence, we pray. For us to make the time, carve out the space, to just be with you, to just listen. Voice, speak to us. We pray, Amen.