I have met many Christians who speak confidently about God’s conversations with them. They are likely to say things like, “God told me to go down one more aisle; I did, and lo and behold, there was a parking place! Isn’t that just like God,” they ask. I have never had God tell me that, and I have trouble relating to it. I have wondered if they are really hearing God as well as why I don’t seem to hear such things.
Most of my Christian experience is with a veiled God. I can talk to him, but if he talks to me it is not as he did with Adam in the garden. His voice is a silent one, heard in the timbre of my own voice as I read the written words of scripture. On those special occasions when I am praying and unique words spring to my consciousness, I sometimes think it is God, but I don’t always know with clarity those words were his and not just my own imaginings.
Then there are days when I do know, when the words that form in the quiet of my being are unmistakably his and uncannily personal. Though they’ve never pointed me to a parking place, when these moments happen, the words are as intimate as a whisper. They penetrate the veil, and for a moment, the light of God’s face touches mine and reveals his heart to me in a way I cannot deny.
The sun was still low in the morning sky, but the air was already warming. It would be a hot and humid day. The man in line before me called back over his shoulder, “I’m always glad to be flying out before the heat of the day.” We were waiting in queue on the tarmac to board a plane home. I was flying alone because there weren’t enough seats for both my husband and me to travel together on our stand-by tickets. I’d waved good-bye as he waited at the gate having received the final word that everyone had shown up to fly that morning; there’d be no more room for additional passengers. He’d try for the next flight.
Even though a short line, it was slow moving, and I was praying silently. I had developed a fear of flying. I used to fly far more often, usually on business; but with four young children at home now, I flew quite rarely. A friend from our early days of marriage lost both of his parents in a plane crash, and I couldn’t seem to get on a plane without remembering that. No one who flew with me would know that I have a fear of flying; I manifest no outward signs. I can chat with other folks in line and function fine, but I pray a lot and agonize on the inside. So as our line ambled turtle-like towards the plane, my inner dialog was intense. I wondered if my separate flight from my husband was God’s coordination to spare one of us so that our children would not be parentless at the end of the day. I asked God to forgive me for being fearful and so morbidly creative in my thoughts. I prayed for courage. I reminded myself that I could fly without fear because God’s will was ultimately for my good, regardless of the outcome of this day. If this were the day of my death, I didn’t want to fear it; but I was still feeling the inner tremble of fear and worrying about my motherless children.
When it was my turn to board, the first officer smiled and said, “Good morning,” his gold-rimmed sunglasses reflecting the sun not too unlike his teeth which were noticeably white. He looked like he could barely be older than 18. I answered his greeting and climbed the steps onto the plane. Passing the cockpit, I saw that the pilot didn’t look any older than the first officer. On board, the air was hot and still. The plane was small, just one seat on each side of the narrow aisle. It probably carried no more than 18 passengers. I sat down at the exit window, arranging my handbag on my lap and fastening my seat belt. The first officer was closing the door. He walked deliberately down the aisle and stopped at my seat. I was pretty sure he was asking if I was able to perform the duties required of sitting by an exit, but he spoke in such a fast, rote manner I wasn’t altogether certain. He pointed at the window as if to show me the emergency hatch and made a pushing motion with his hands towards the seat in front of me to indicate that it had to be pushed forward first. I smiled and nodded my head; yes, I could perform exit duties. I did wonder, though, how I’d push the seat in front of me forward with a passenger in it. How would she know that she’d need to get out of her seat in order for me to open the window for our escape? I could imagine our frenzied dialog over the seat as the plane plummeted downward. Then I reminded myself that if the plane were going down, the emergency window wouldn’t be much help anyway. I started to pray again.
I pulled my Bible out of my bag and opened it to the Psalms. It happened to open halfway through the 119th psalm, and so I began reading there. The psalmist wrote of his delight in the statutes of the Lord. I was captivated by the fervor of the language. I read to the end of the chapter before setting the Bible down to rest on my handbag. The engines revved as the plane began its taxi, readying for the signal that would authorize takeoff. The signal must have come quickly as we were soon accelerating down the runway, the turbo-prop engines straining loudly, the tat-tat of the wheels speeding over the seams of the concrete until at last the plane nosed up and off the runway altogether.
I was watching the familiar shrink into something tiny as the plane climbed higher and the city below diminished into something that could have been a model town in an N-gauge train display. I had no peace about the outcome of this flight, and I had had peace on past flights. At some point on those flights, while praying, I would sense something of a reassurance that the plane would land safely again. I began to read the next psalm and then the next, taking breaks to pray a little and also to quiet my thoughts. I knew that fear was playing with me, and I was letting it. It didn’t seem as though any willpower on my part was enough on its own to quiet me. I felt silly for being prey to fear, but there it dangled me as though I were, like the city below, in miniature. It was as though I hung, suspended from a string in the hands of a giant named Fear, and I was batting my tiny fists at the air but accomplishing nothing other than to tire myself out. If Fear could smile condescendingly at the innocuous toy dangling from its fingers, it was most certainly smirking now.
And that’s when the plane banked. The wing dipped, and the horizon tipped askew. The sudden motion was like someone throwing open a blind on a dark room. The sun, that low-but-ever-climbing morning sun, flashed through the window so brightly that I could barely see, and I had to cup my right hand over my eyes to shade them. So there I sat at the window marked with red e-x-i-t letters, my right hand shading my eyes from the sun so I could read, and I read:“The Lord watches over you – The Lord is your shade at your right hand;” The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”
A shiver shot down my spine. I exhaled with a graceless grunt as though I were being wakened unexpectedly. I felt the need to look around at the passengers nearby like one might if he had heard a strange noise and needed confirmation that he wasn’t the only one who heard it, but this was no strange noise. It was a flutter inside. Attentive, I continued to read:“The Lord will keep you from real harm – He will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.”
There was the whisper through the veil, the personal whisper of a God who will speak intimately not because he has to but because he chooses to. A quiet tear wet the inside of my cheek. I marveled at a God who had no obligation to speak into my moment but chose to speak lovingly to my greatest fears and quiet them. Through ancient and mysteriously powerful words penned in another age, he gave me assurance. If he hadn’t gotten my attention with the words, “shade at your right hand,” I might have found some universal consolation in the words to follow; but I would not have heard them as intimately as I did. I would not have seen them for the personal whisper they were, the kind that comes only from someone who really loves you and wants you to know it, someone who knows what your right hand is doing at any given moment.
I prayed, “Thank you. Thank you, thank you,” and with my finger mopped the inside of my cheek. The whisper through the veil is still sweet to my taste.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”
– I John 4:18a