March 3, 2024 Reflection and Worship Link


“The Gift of Being Thunderstruck”

Scripture Reading: Mark 12: 28-34; Mark 8: 27-29a)


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Having grown up in southwestern Ontario, I have a lot of experience with thunderstorms, especially the kind that happen in the middle of the night. As a child those storms terrified me.  At the sound of the first boom of thunder I would leap out of my bed, run into my parent’s bedroom and crawl under the covers with them where I would stay until the sound of the thunder could be heard retreating further and further away in the distance and we could no longer see lightning flashing through the windows.

My father, a kind and patient man, endured these nocturnal visits from his youngest child for several years.  Until one night, just as the thunder was beginning to roll, before I had time to make my mad dash into his bedroom, he showed up in mine.  He crawled in my tiny bed beside me, we snuggled up together and he began to talk to me about the source of those loud noises that caused me so much fear.  Up in the sky, high above us, he told me there are men rolling rain barrels back and forth across the clouds, dumping them out on us and refilling them over and over again.  There was nothing to be afraid of he told me.

I don’t remember what he told me about the lightening, but this story about the source of the thunder seemed to satisfy me and calm my fears.  I never got out of bed in the middle of a storm ever again.

Eric Elnes, author of the book Gifts of the Dark Wood, would say that my father’s explanation about the origins of thunder are very much in keeping with our assumptions about all mythology that talks about thunder and lightning.  We tend to think these mythologies, and there are lots of them by the way, are meant to convey to us something about the source of the thunder and lightning, what’s making those sights and sounds which is usually some kind of Divine being. But Elnes says, that in the Ancient Near East in particular, these mythologies were not meant to convey to us where the voice of God comes from, they were meant to illustrate how God’s voice comes to us which he says is primarily through our own intuition.

That, no doubt is why many of us can describe experiences in our lives when we have had a major flash of insight or times when it seemed to us as if the voice in our head was thundering at us to wake up or change direction or stay put.

Our readings this morning describe both of these kinds of insight. 

The reading from the book of Job describes a moment in which the mere sound of thunder and the sight of lightning causes Job to stand back and simply marvel at the awesomeness of God. This helps him to realize that the inordinate amount of suffering he has experienced in life, like the way that thunder roars and lightening flashes, cannot be explained or controlled.  He’s actually drawn closer to God through this ambiguity.  It releases him into the vastness and goodness of the Divine.  He no longer needs an answer to his questions about why he has suffered so much.  He is content to simply know that great things are possible with God.  Maybe you’ve had that kind of experience in your own life where something awesome happened that made you realize you were caught up in something bigger than yourself and you experienced it as a kind of wake up call that encouraged you to trust more deeply in the presence of God.

In the second reading,  when we hear about the orchid that looks exactly like the insect that is drawn to pollinate it, we might naturally wonder who or what the flower is that draws from us our deepest love and our greatest life purpose.  Like the musician drawn to song or the accountant lost in calculations or the parent whose natural impulse is to respond to their child, we feel most fulfilled when we are engaged in that which gives us and others life.  We come home to ourselves when we have this kind of connection with our life’s purpose.  When we realize what that is it can seem as if the lights have suddenly come on.

One of things I appreciate about Elnes’ commentary on these flashes of insight and wake up calls is the way he talks about them reverberating in our lives.  He says that it’s this reverberation, the way these experiences echo in our lives that are the best indicators that we should pay attention to them.

Listen to what he says:  In the Dark Wood of our interior journey, when the lightning flashes and thunder reverberates powerfully and repeatedly in the same location, it is a good sign that we are to move in the direction it indicates. (pg 69)

In my own experience of these kinds of reverberations and the way I have seen them play out in the lives of others, sometimes there can be long stretches between the flashes and roars.  When we pay attention to them and begin to take a step closer towards them we often have no idea where they are leading us or when they will strike or sound again.

Years ago I was living in Toronto working at a job that I found mostly fulfilling.  On one of my vacations, I took a trip out west to visit my brother who lives in Rossland, in the interior of BC. When I landed at the airport I had an overwhelming feeling of coming home even though I had never lived in BC.  A couple years after that experience, the organization I was working for decided to move its’ head office from Toronto to Ottawa.  They wanted me to go with them.  At the same time, I had just started going back to church and studying the leadership of non-profit organizations.  One night I was talking to my brother on the phone and he told me about a house he had just bought that had a one-bedroom suite in it.  I jokingly asked him “is it for me?”  When I got off the phone I felt that same knowing feeling again.  I just knew that suite was for me.  Within a few months I left my job in Toronto and was living in Rossland.  What I didn’t know at the time was that paying attention to those reverberations within me would lead me to seminary in Vancouver and eventually to my standing here before you today.

You may be wondering, how did I know the voice I was responding to was the “right” one? How do we know that the voice we hear when thunder rumbles is actually the voice of God?

Elnes says that one of those measures is that they do repeat themselves. They come back to us sometimes in different ways but with the same message or at least a message that takes us in the same direction, a little further along the path.  If we ignore them the first or even the second or third time, sometimes they just get louder and louder.

The other measure is that they always connect us to our deepest yearnings, hopes and dreams, even when they are inviting us to move in ways that seem illogical.  For example, when I decided to pay attention to the flashes of insight that were drawing me towards a life in British Columbia, I ended up saying yes to a low paying waitressing job in my brother’s restaurant and no to a higher paying job in Ottawa.  By many standards, it made no logical sense to move away from the better paying job and yet doing so led me towards living out of my deepest and truest self even when I wasn’t really sure who that was at the time.

It may seem that being thunderstruck is something that only happens to people who are called into ministry and yet I have witnessed the way it happens to people in all kinds of circumstances.  Over the years I have listened to many of you speak about the Dark Wood times of your lives when you heard the voice of God calling you to make a change you might not have even wanted to make. The gift in that Dark Wood time was that further down the road you landed somewhere even more life giving than the place you were called to leave behind. 

For some of you the lightening that struck in the Dark Wood reverberated in ways that led you to leave a relationship or a job or to find new life after you were left in the dark woods by someone else.  Some of you like Job from this morning’s reading have expressed the way that life feels like it is always a journey through the Dark Wood.  What sustains you are the flashes of light that continue to help you find your way. 

Elnes concludes his chapter on the Gift of Being Thunderstruck by reflecting on the way that whenever we listen to God’s voice heard in thunderous moments or seen in lightning flashes of insight, the places we are led to result not only in greater fulfillment for us, they also result in greater fulfillment for others.  They bring justice, assistance, fairness, compassion not just to the one who hears and follows the voice or insight, but to others as well.

Sometimes, it takes years of listening to that voice before it becomes apparent that we have arrived in just the right place at just the right time to be God’s voice for others.

We can rarely if ever predict where we will end up when we respond to the voice that thunders in our ears and flashes in our vision, but if the voice is true, it will always result in more abundant life for us and for others.

That night, when my father crawled into my bed to explain to me the origins of the sound of thunder, I don’t think he told me that the men rolling the rain barrels across the clouds were working for God.  What I do recall is that it was a story that assured me that even in the worst of storms there is nothing to fear.  Even though at times we may have experiences that shake us to our core, the force that guides us is benevolent, the way ahead always leans always towards life.