Hearing God: Rumi and the Still, Small Voice

I’m a big fan of the poet Rumi. Recently in Toronto I visited the Aga Khan Museum to view a special exhibit celebrating Rumi. Before even entering the beautiful building, one sees a site-specific installation which employs a sentence from Rumi: “There is a voice that does not use words.”

As you’ll see in the photo, these words are printed backwards and upside down, so they can only be read as reflected in a large pool of water—and then only when the water is still. What a wonderful metaphor for the voice of God!  

“Listen” by Matt Donovan & Hallie Siegel (For best effect, click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Early in my Christian life I had an experience that displayed both the subtlety and the power of God’s “still, small voice.” Anyone who knows my book The Mystery of Marriage will know that the prospect of marrying plunged me into a terrific struggle. Not because I wasn’t terrifically in love with my wife-to-be, but rather because I wondered if I might be called instead to be a monk. This tug-of-war became so intense that I decided to fast and pray until the Lord gave me a definitive answer. I was prepared for the long haul—forty days if necessary—or four, whichever came first! As it turned out, God answered just a few hours into my fast, which meant I could enjoy supper that evening.

His answer wasn’t exactly definitive. It didn’t come in the form of a voice, a vision, or a clear command. Indeed His answer was so utterly undramatic that I find it difficult even to describe. I was sitting on the floor cross-legged, meditation-style—my usual posture for prayer in those days—when all of a sudden I knew His voice. No audible words, no ticker tape running across my retina, no great emotional upheaval. Indeed the Lord’s answer was as small and understated as it is possible to imagine, the sort of thing a person might miss entirely. Nevertheless, into my perplexed mind it arrived with the clarity of a single star shining on a dark and mostly-cloudy night, and I understood plainly what God was saying. Translated into prosaic English, it ran something like this: 

“You may do whatever you wish; you’re entirely free. I am with you and will mightily bless whatever you choose. But I shall be a little more pleased—just the tiniest bit—if you choose Karen.” 

It was as though I were sitting before two giant haystacks shining in the moonlight, when all at once out of heaven a single golden straw drifted onto the top of one of the stacks, lending that one ever-so-slightly more weight. That is how minute was the sense of movement in my spirit. But it was enough. It was enough to give me perfect confidence about marrying Karen. 

This was my version of the “still, small voice” that Elijah heard in the cave on Mount Horeb. God wasn’t in the windstorm, the earthquake, or the fire, but in what might best be translated as “the sound of gentle silence” (1 Kings 19:12). 

I’d like to say that from this point on I knew how to make godly decisions. But no, it was many years before I learned habitually to discern God’s normal voice, which is the voice of silence, speaking through the most ordinary things: a shaft of sunlight on a rose, a rusted tin can in a vacant lot, a sudden pang of tenderness in the heart. 

As Rumi says, “There is a voice that does not use words.” 


Next Post:  Let Fiery Preachers and Prophets Arise!

free ebook
Posted in Uncategorized.