The Still, Small Voice

shema sketch


This quick pencil sketch was inspired by a lively teaching and discussion I attended last week on the occasion of Shavuot, a lesser-known Jewish holiday that is held very dear.  For those of us who are part of the ancient book club of Judaism, this holiday celebrates the great story of divine revelation:  the giving of the Torah in the Book of Exodus on top of Mt. Sinai.

This is a tale of unparalleled drama.  Long before movies brought us special effects, this epic of spiritual literature brought together the searing elements of mountain and desert, smoke and fire, lightning, thunder, and celestial trumpets in one grand crescendo.  The language is truly awe-inspiring.

It is in the aftermath of this grand upheaval that the still, small voice of divine revelation is heard:

“Now all is still . . . . All the forces of nature remain tranquil, and everything bespeaks the divine glory.  And out of the amazing stillness that prevailed after the fearful storm are heard the words of the Eternal.” – Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, 1967

And then the lightning and unbridled storms
Upon the mount crouched in obedience to the will
That moves in silence.  God stood close upon
The margin of my soul, and I outstretched
To that dim verge of spirit where
A man meets God speechless . . .
As shadow of leaf upon a leaf.”
  – A.K. Blank, The Spoken Choice, 1969

When God gave the Torah, no bird sang, no fowl flew, no ox lowed, the sea ceased to roar; and all creatures were silent.  The entire world was hushed into stillness and the Voice spoke forth.”  – Midrash

What is revelation?  Becoming aware of that which was there all along, we are told.  I like that.  And I enjoy the paradox:  Receding flames bring quiet understanding.  Passing storms break up into fine pastels.  Great upheaval yields still small voice. (Hebrew readers will notice how I imagine this in the sketch.)

Some hold that this still, small voice is always there, if we listen.  I believe that’s true.  But to me, the storm that precedes it helps to rarefy an even more special silence, as light and elusive as a dancing flame.  What energizes nature also energizes awareness – yet vanishes into space.

Storm and silence become one, if we can hear that small voice.

This is only a sketch . . . but sometimes, a sketch is all that’s needed.

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