In a recent New Yorker essay, a review of a book about the voices we all hear in our heads, Jerome Groopman talks about the evolution of the idea in the Hebrew scriptures that the voice we hear within us is the voice of God:
At Mt. Sinai God’s voice, in midrash, was so overwhelming that only the first letter, aleph, was sounded. But in later prophetic books the divine voice grows quieter. Elijah, on Mt. Horeb, is addressed by God in what the King James Bible calls “a still small voice,” and which, in the original Hebrew is even more suggestive—literally “the sound of a slender silence.” By the time we reach the Book of Esther, God’s voice is absent.
Not “the sound of silence”: the “sound of a slender silence.” A subtler silence still.
And trailing off, Groopman seems to be saying, disappearing altogether finally, as our faith disappears and we begin to doubt the voice we thought was God’s and ignore the voice we so loved and feared and turn instead to other voices, inside and outside us.
But I don’t know.
I’ve been reading a biography of Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit scientist and mystic, almost saintly, I think, in his kindness and his openness and his love of God and his love of life, who believed that the whole cosmos is bursting with grace, matter charged with spirit and always becoming spirit, so that the whole sum of material things becomes itself a sacrament, always and everywhere.
the great mystery of Christianity is not exactly the appearance, but the transparence, of God in the universe. Yes, Lord, not only the ray that strikes the surface, but ray that penetrates, not your Epiphany, Jesus, but your diaphany.
Diaphany: revelation everywhere, in everything and in every moment.
Not shrinking the idea of miracle but expanding it, infinitely.
The silence of God arrived at in Esther not a sign of his absence but of his ever increasing presence.
Or an evolution, as Teilhard revered Evolution itself, the great movement of the universe from energy to matter to spirit over countless eons, into the cell, into the body, into the heart and into the mind and bursting out, evolving into something higher still. We no longer need the voice. We are the voice—and the listener, too.
The other day my newly-retired wife brought home a rescue dog, a one-year-old ten-pound cross between a Yorkie, a dachshund, and a squirrel abandoned in Bakersfield, California under a car and rescued and shipped to a shelter in Oregon and so timid and shaken and shy we named him Shy, called him what he is, though as he learns to trust Barb and trust me he is more and more coming out of himself, trotting behind us through the house, wagging his tale. Scruffy black. Bowlegged.
His bright, curious eyes. His bushy, caramel eyebrows.
What has moved me is how the house has gentled since Shy has come. When we approach him directly, from above, he cowers and hides. So we sit on the carpet. We let him come to us. We speak in soft voices. For a few days I’ve been quietly aware of the comfort and order and peace of the place where I live, the books and the music and the smell of coffee, and the trees outside the window, and how this might look through the eyes of this abused and abandoned little dog, what comfort we might give him.
This is all infinitely silly.
This scruffy little dog, with his scraggly, ratty tale.
He’s never barked. He’s never made a sound, except the sound of the nails of his tiny, mismatched paws as he hurries across the kitchen floor.
We are in the living room, and we’re listening for God’s voice, but God doesn’t come in the earthquake, we told in the First Book of Kings, and God doesn’t come in the storm. He comes in the still small voice, and not even there, but in the silence, in the slender silence.
The bounce of it. The wag of it.
How it felt the first time Shy came into my lap. Slowly. First one paw, then another.
How it felt when I picked him up, and held him, and he put his scruffy, whiskery head on my shoulder.