Within the Stillness of Being, God Speaks

The Hebrew word for “wilderness” (מִדְבַּר = midbar) coincidentally shares the same consonants word for the term מְדַבֵּר (mĕdĕbēr =  “speaker”). Philo of Alexandria and some of the Hassidic mystics suggest that the wilderness is precisely where God reveals Himself to His people—and not in the cacophonous uproar of the city, where human beings ignore the Voice of God speaking.[1]

Mother Theresa once said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” The silence of nature speaks volumes, but without words—simply by being present to the power of the Divine that infuses its being with life and purpose. [2]

It is no accident that spiritual people throughout history discovered how the דְּמָמָה דַקָּה “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12–13) is the vehicle through which God makes His Presence known, even though this “small voice” more often than not is drowned out by the cacophonous world we live in. According to Michael Fishbane, “The phrase may be a deliberate paradox—an attempt to articulate the voiced silence of God’s presence, through reference to a sound (kol) that is both silently still דְּמָמָה (demāmāh) and audibly thin דַקָּה (dāqǎ).” Fishbane’s Zen-like observation succinctly captures the subtlety of how God communicates, within the stillness of our being—that is where He is heard. This mystery flows from the depths of eternity; pointing to great immensity of the Divine; yet, God’s immensity is never so far removed from the human heart that seeks truth and comfort.

Israel discovers her faith in the wilderness and later constructs a Tabernacle (Mishkan) to symbolize God’s abiding Presence among them. In its precincts, God does not speak “to Moses” rather, Moses hears the Divine Word resonate from within his innermost being and conscience. Throughout Jewish tradition, the Mishkan represents God’s triumph over the forces of chaos. Creating a sacred place within the hostile precincts of the wilderness is a spiritually suggestive metaphor for moderns—for even as we enter our own personal wilderness, God beckons us to make a holy space for God to dwell with us as we traverse the מִדְבַּר.

[1] Philo asks: Why didn’t God give the Ten Commandments in a city? Why did he choose the desert? His answer may be paraphrased briefly as follows: The city is not a safe place; they are full crime. 2) The city is a symbol of vanity. In contrast, the desert is characterized by simplicity. 3) The life in the desert posed less distractions; being in the desert enabled a person to purify himself and become more conducive for receiving the Divine oracles. 4) In the desert, the Israelite people learned that the Ten Commandments were not the products of human beings. It was in the desert the people came to know God through the various miracles of the manna, the quail, the making of sweet water, etc. Philo observes, “For he who gave abundance of life’s necessaries also granted the resources for the good life; for living they needed food and drink, which they found without making any preparations”(Philo Decalogue 2-7).

[2] Hannah Ward, Jennifer Wild, The Westminster Collection of Christian Meditations – Oxford, Great Britain: Lion Publishing, 1998),159.


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