In the year 1505 Martin Luther found himself trapped in a terrible thunderstorm. On all sides he was surrounded by flashes of lightning and crashing thunder. It must have been a terribly frightening storm because Martin Luther was afraid he might not make it out alive. And so, he did what many of us do when faced with life-or-death situations: he made a promise to God. If God would spare his life, Martin Luther would devote his life to God. When he was spared, that he did. Not long later, Martin Luther entered a monastery and dedicated his life to serving the Lord.
Have you ever been there in one of those terrifying moments that make you realize suddenly how small and powerless you are? One of those moments when it is abundantly clear that you need God’s help or you’ll never make it through? I can’t speak for everyone, but I think many people – including me – have had at least one of those Jesus-take-the-wheel moments.
Or maybe it’s not a near-death experience but a time when the presence of God seemed abundantly clear and close. Those moments are almost like hearing an audible voice, or like being surrounded by flashes of lightning. In those moments, we are captivated by the majesty of God, and God’s direction and plan seem startlingly clear.
We’ve looked at two unexpected gifts that we find in the Dark Wood on our journey through Lent. We’ve looked at the gifts of uncertainty and emptiness. This week’s gift is a little bit harder to pin down. This week’s gift is the gift of being thunderstruck (I’ll pause for you to get the AC/DC song out of your head).
Being thunderstruck is a bit of a misnomer. It’s misleading. When we think of being thunderstruck, we think of those big moments. We think of those times when we have certainty, and our faith is strong, and we know what we need to do. We think of flashes of lightning and brilliant clarity.
We think about those burning-bush moments where it feels like God is speaking directly to us.
Those moments can be part of our journey, to be sure, but they certainly don’t make up the majority of our experiences with God. Those flashes of light and moments of insight can be far and few between. They can be spaced so far apart that we almost forget that they happened. And, yet, they are so moving and personal that they have a way of sticking with us deep inside. The majority of our journey isn’t made up of flashes of light. We don’t spend most of our time on the mountaintop. Instead, we may have little experiences, little rumbles, little insights, and gentle whispers that lead us step-by-step along the way.
When we are able to look back and see how God has led us to where we’re called to be, we might feel like the fog has been lifted and we’re finally able to see. But before all of that enlightenment were a host of small rumbles and soft whispers. We may not have even known what we were walking towards, but we’re called to take each step along the journey even if we aren’t sure where it might lead.
The gift of being thunderstruck is more the gift of being invited into an ongoing process, a journey that will lead us through twists and turns we never expected. When we begin our journey, we may be hoping for the exciting burning-bush experiences, but we spend most of our journey in Exodus 2 rather than Exodus 3. It’s been helpful for me to think about three parts of our spiritual journey as I think about the gift of being thunderstruck, and I hope these parts might be helpful for you as well. On our journeys of faith we need to keep our eyes open, we need to be curious enough to turn aside and look, and we have to be ready to take off our shoes.
First, we need to keep our eyes open. For Moses, this starts back in Exodus 2. In Exodus 2:11, we read this: “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk.” Moses had the unusual experience of being raised among Egyptian royalty even though he was of the Hebrew people. I would imagine he had been sheltered in many ways from personally experiencing the oppression his people endured. But after Moses had grown up, he went out and he saw what the people were going through. His eyes were opened, and he saw their suffering.
Sometimes we need to leave the security of our routines to see what’s going on around us. It can be so easy for us to get stuck in the routines and rhythms of life that we miss what’s happening not far from where we are. I know someone who is amazing at keeping her eyes open. She listens better than anyone else I know, and she has such a curious spirit that she’s usually the first one to notice something amazing. She and I were walking together, and she noticed someone working – someone neither of us knew. She called out to him and said hello, and he actually stopped his work and came to talk to us.
The man spoke slowly, and struggled a few times to find the English words he wanted to use, but then he asked, “Are you Christians?” We both said we were, and then he said, “Would you pray for me? I have a tough job. My ministry is to young boys and men. So many of them have turned to drugs, or drop out of school, and they have no kind of life.”
We told him we would pray, and that we thought he was doing amazing things in the lives of the young people. But, if my friend hadn’t looked and spoken, we would have missed it. She had her eyes open, and it helped me to open my eyes, too.
On our spiritual journeys, we seek out God’s leading by keeping our eyes open. We also take steps along the path by staying curious. I love Moses’ reaction when he sees the burning bush. Exodus 3:3 says, “Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’” I think this verse is delightful. Think of it. How did Moses know that the bush was on fire, but was not consumed? He stopped and he looked. He looked long enough that he began to realize something different was going on, and he left the beaten path to get a closer look.
There is never an end of things to be curious about, and sometimes in our curiosity we stumble upon things that will leave us thunderstruck. I love the way T.H White writes about this in The Once and Future King:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
On Moses’ journey to the burning bush (though he didn’t know where he was headed!), he kept his eyes open, and he was curious. He was confronted by the needs around him, and he was willing to look deeper and explore.
Moses’ journey was far from perfect. He killed the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew slave, something that led to him having to flee and live in the wilderness. When God spoke to him from the bush, Moses made excuses and asked God to send someone else. Just like all of the other people we can learn about in Scripture, Moses was a person with plenty of mistakes to his name. And yet God still works with Moses, and God still works with each of us.
Moses had his eyes open, and he was curious. When we begin to get into the habit of looking at things through the eyes of curiosity, we may begin to uncover some of the needs around us, too. We may find ourselves hearing little rumbles and feeling little nudges that lead us in the direction of God’s calling on our lives. In those moments, we may not feel like we’re surround by grand flashes of light, but we will be walking in step with God who is leading us through the wilderness and into a place of abundant life.
Finally, Moses takes off his shoes. When God speaks to him from the bush, God says this: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And Moses does. He removes his sandals as an acknowledgment that he is in a holy place and experiencing a holy moment. His bare feet touched the earth beneath him, reconnecting him with the dust of the earth.
As each of us are on our journeys, we are invited to open our eyes and look around. We are challenged to stay curious and open to possibilities. We are also called to take off our shoes, and keep a teachable and malleable spirit.
Kids have a way of teaching us about keeping our eyes open, holding on to curiosity, and being teachable. I think it’s because children are interested in the world around them. They haven’t yet dulled their minds or become desensitized to the world around them. Recently I learned that some think the word interested comes from a Latin phrase “inter esse,” which literally means “it is in between.” And isn’t that really the work of faith, to be ready to see what’s in between, what’s just below the surface, and what brings heaven and earth together in a fleeting moment?
Are we interested in what God is doing in the world?
Are we remaining curious and open to turning away from our agendas and to-do lists to see where God is leading us today?
Are we eager to learn and listen?
Along the way, we may find ourselves thunderstruck, not because we’ve achieved some amazing insight, but because as we walk step-by-curious-step with open eyes and humble, teachable spirits, we may find ourselves right where we need to be. We may find ourselves using the gifts we’ve been given, showing hospitality to strangers, and experiencing God in ways we never could have imagined. We may find ourselves discovering what’s in the in-between. And in that in-between we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the beauty of God.