I’d like a more predictable God. What I mean by that is that I want a more controllable God. What I mean is, I wish magic worked.
There are times when I have heard the noise of God, and I use that word somewhat facetiously, but if we are to talk about the silence of God, that presumes a noise of God. I’ve probably written more about this noise than I’ve spoken of it because it’s a little embarrassing. It too easily invites rolling eyes or jokes about Charleton Heston’s voice.
But I have heard the noise of God. Not exactly a voice, not really a sound even, but some stirring of God that, in my experience, mostly says some variation of, “I am here. I want you. Follow me.” This isn’t the only message I’ve received, but for the purposes of this essay, it is enough. These noises have come to me in intentional prayer or meditation and they have come in worship and they have come in unexpected conversation that I start but gets away from me and before I know it, God is revealed once again.
I like it. I like the noise of God. It comforts me and gives me hope for another day and it makes me feel special. It makes me feel so special, that I want it a lot. This noise of God is a little like a drug and once you have it, it’s hard to do without. I long for it and in the longing, I pant with the psalmist, like a deer desiring a running brook.
But I want magic to work and God is not magic. I suspect that I don’t hear God’s noise more often than I do precisely because I need to be reminded quite regularly that the hearing isn’t the only aspect of God. My feeling special isn’t the only reason God stirs. Indeed, it’s very easy to confuse the religious experience itself for God and the desire to hear the noise becomes an idol, the same as any golden calf. The feeling, the ecstasy, is more the goal than true communion with God and, in my experience which is all I have, God goes mute so that I seek not the noise, but the God of all creation. All my exercises to recreate the exact circumstances of previous religious experience becomes so much clanging cymbal because I am, in truth, seeking my own ecstasy, my own good feeling and have no love in the exercises.
This is not the only reason God keeps silent to me. We once had a fight and God withdrew. I know this sounds silly, but it wasn’t at the time. Harsh words were spoken. I wanted something done (not even for myself!) and I was testing God. I wanted to see a miracle, I wanted to see some real proof of God caring, of having the power we’re told God has. I railed that this wasn’t even for me, it was for someone I never met, someone I wasn’t likely to meet, just someone who was important to someone I loved and I fought with God, telling God how unselfish I was being! “Okay,” I said angrily, tearfully, “so you let my mother die, so I did not receive the love of the man I wanted, so I didn’t have a career I wanted — just throw me a bone to let me know that you are out there and active and not just a fairy-tale for children and stupid adults.” God granted my wish (and I use that word precisely because I was treating God like a genie and it was selfish even if it was for the healing of someone I did not know) but there was a time that I felt God withdraw, an absence I recognized because I had known the Presence in my mother’s death, in my unrequited love, in my vocation. (I pause to acknowledge that there is arrogance in this story, presuming that God healed this stranger because I railed as I did. I really don’t know this. All I know is that I fought with God, God withdrew, and this stranger is alive, turned from a point of certain death. I acknowledge that there were many others praying for her and I have no real reason to believe that my drama played any part in it at all.)
If only God were magic and commandable like a genie, but no, our God is not so mindless, so weak.
There is a limit, I think, to what God can do in the world and I can’t tell if that limit is out of God’s choice or the powers and principalities of this world having the sway they now enjoy. I do not pretend to know the whole answer to all this. How could I? But the silence of God isn’t only a sign of God as idol-smasher nor of a withdrawing God who has heard all that could be stood for the moment. There is, at a very unlikely minimum, one more place where I have experienced the silence of God, mostly because this noise of God was so soft, so low, it was not immediately discernible.
I alluded to it above. Sometimes we mistake the silence of God as an absence, which it is not. Sometimes we hear silence when the Spirit is most fully present, interceding in sighs too deep for words. In this soft, subtle noise of God, there is a comfort and release no genie could ever give. Why I more often refuse to tune my ear to this noise and demand magic, I do not know and can only repent when I become aware of my demands, and ask for ears to hear.
Central Texas native Neil Ellis Orts grew up on a farm on the Lee/Bastrop county line. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Texas State University, a master’s of divinity from Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts from Columbia College Chicago. He has published fiction and arts writing, including the 2004 novel Hidden Gifts. He also makes short performance pieces and has presented them in Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta.