Let Me Hear What God the Lord Will Speak

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

(Psalm 85:8, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

When Quakers come together for worship, they strive to enter into a state of expectant silence—each Friend hoping that someone in the meeting, perhaps even themselves, will receive a message from Spirit and share it with the rest of the group.

The prospect of continued revelation, to use the technical term for it, plays a central role in Quaker faith and practice. One night, in the fall of 1643, after a disappointing encounter with two cousins who styled themselves faithful Christians, George Fox stayed up praying and pacing his room, until God told him, “Thou must forsake all, both young and old, and keep out of all, and be as a stranger unto all.” Obeying that divine command led to years of wandering England, looking for someone who could give him spiritual counsel, but, Fox wrote, “I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition.”

“And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone,” he continued, “so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”

That message contains the seed of the entire Quaker movement.

(In Fox’s seventeenth-century English, by the way, “even” means something more like “namely,” making this an especially emphatic statement.)

While today’s secular culture professes a healthy degree of respect for religious faith, it often treats the idea of continued revelation as little more than a joke—like that old stand-up routine where Bill Cosby would cup his hand around the microphone and lean in close to create the loud, booming voice of God telling Noah to build him an ark.

Remember a few years ago, when reports circulated in the media that then-vice president Mike Pence had felt “God was calling him,” as one journalist put it, throughout his political career, and some people interpreted that as Pence believing that Jesus had spoken to him directly? One talk show host referred to it as a sign of “mental illness.” And though she later apologized to Pence and Christians across the United States for her remark, her attitude persists among many.

The phrase “God was calling him” leaves a great deal of room for interpretation, however—and doesn’t necessarily imply that Pence heard the voice of God in the same way George Fox did. Pence’s wife, Karen, has discussed the moment the two of them went to the top of a bluff in a Colorado forest and conferred (with no small amount of prayer) about whether he should launch another campaign for a seat in Congress after two failed attempts. “As we were sitting on that ledge,” she writes in When It’s Your Turn to Serve, “we looked out and saw two red-tailed hawks… rising on the wind, letting the wind’s current lift them higher and higher.”

A red-tailed hawk similar to the ones the Pences saw that day.
(Photo: Frank Schulenberg/Creative Commons)

Pence compared himself and his wife to those hawks, to which she responded: “We should step off this cliff and make ourselves available to God… We should allow God to lift us up to wherever He wants to use us with No Flapping.”

Notice the ambiguity.

Karen Pence doesn’t call those soaring hawks a sign from God; she doesn’t suggest God put them there at that precise moment for the Pences to see. She might believe either of those things, or she might simply believe that seeing the hawks helped cut through all the noise so they could better perceive God’s signal.

Many Friends can attest to similar experiences—incidents that a skeptical, rational world might dismiss as coincidences, but in which we have chosen to see meaning. Furthermore, many of us make a conscious effort to live in anticipation of such moments, or even moments when God or Spirit might reach out to us more directly.

Through silent worship, but not only through silent worship, we ground ourselves, as Ben Pink Dandelion writes in Celebrating the Quaker Way, “in the humility of those seeking, those grateful for what we are given, those hungry to hear the call, those eager to work with God to further God’s loving purposes.”

Because even if we may have our doubts about Christ Jesus, as many Quakers do, we still long to hear from one who can speak to our condition.

Ron Hogan

Ron Hogan is the audience development specialist for Friends Publishing Corporation and webmaster for Quaker.org. He is also the author of Our Endless and Proper Work.

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