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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

The Secret Place of Thunder

Photo by Tom Strecker on Unsplash

"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey.  This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.


I hear a voice I had not known:

"I relieved your shoulder of the burden;    

your hands were freed from the basket.

In distress you called, and I rescued you;    

I answered you in the secret place of thunder….

I am the Lord your God,    

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.    

Open your mouth wide and I will fill it….

O that my people would listen to me,    

that Israel would walk in my ways!"

~Psalm 81:5b-7a; 10, 13 (NRSV)

Life has a pace that should not be violated. 

Life has a pace that I should fall into step with.

God has a pace as well, a pace that is not so often mirrored in my own day-to-day existence.

The problem is that the pace at which we live and the pace at which God lives and works and speaks are out-of-sync so often and so consistently.  But just what are we to do about that?  How are we supposed to align our pace of life with God's?

I don't go on retreats as often as I used to (although I'm working on that!).  But one lesson I've learned from going away on a regular basis is that the pace of life as I live it very easily gets beyond me.  So much about life the way we live it just gets away from us no matter how well-intentioned we may be.  Yes, we absolutely do have choices to make about our priorities and about how to handle all the major and minor crises of life as they unexpectedly crop up.  But that really is the nature of life, isn't it?  And the art of life resides in that middle space, that messy, loud, chaotic place where we navigate between the planned and the unplanned.  


This idea of an out-of-sync pace to life hits home for me on retreat through the simplest images: steam rising over a cup of coffee, autumn leaves floating to the ground, snowflakes falling from winter skies, ocean waves washing onto the shore, clouds brushing across the blue dome of summer, even train whistles and ticking clocks.  

All these simple beauties exist at a certain pace, by which I don’t mean “speed” at all.  They simply happen, with no sense of hurry (sure, there are extremes of wind, snow and weather of all sorts, but these are just that—extremes, not the norm).

I’m struck by how much of life is dictated to us.  Or, if you prefer, how little of life seems to be dictated by us.  We are more often driven, like horses reined and whipped.  The very order of Creation seems to have been flipped on its head.  When God created Adam, He "took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order" (Gen. 2:15 The Message).  

There are most certainly seasons of life (parenting, schooling, career) during which, for a time, we are indeed driven.  But even then it's not as though all choice has left us.  Yet they are in fact seasons and while we need to learn to go with the flow, we also need to manage and direct and shape in the midst of life.  Seasons come and go; their very nature is to last for a brief time–a few years, or weeks, or even merely days.  As I said earlier, this is art, not science or technique.  Being attentive to and working within these seasons is one of the arts of a life lived well.

A necessary balance is required here, but not that of keeping the weight exactly equal on the passivity vs. activity scales, more on the patient-waiting vs. willing-obedience scales (and the art of life dictates that sometimes patient-waiting is willing-obedience!).  The good life requires discernment, the art, beauty, and wisdom of which can be seen most clearly, I think, in Ecclesiastes 3:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.”

I quote this at length for its slow, quiet beauty.  Simply to read this is to enter into that rhythm, that pace, I have been speaking of.  But as I used to share with my high school students, the writer here is saying far more than “Life consists of a whole variety of things that come and go in their time.”  

The richness of this passage consists in the recognition that each of these seasons may be entered into at any time, but that doing so well requires wisdom.  Hence, in the course of a disagreement with a colleague or a child, we ask, “Is this a time for silence, or for speaking?”  Or when going through a deceased parent’s belongings, “Is this a time to weep or to laugh?”  And so, in your own life today, is this a time for war or for peace? for seeking or losing?  for breaking down or building up?  Who among us has the wisdom to know which of these is called for at any given time?  Very few, I think.  But without reflecting on our instinctual, gut-level reactions to life, we simply will not find that wisdom.  That wisdom resides in "the secret place of thunder," the place where God speaks and we listen, where God reveals and we behold.  This kind of wisdom is rooted in humility and comes only to those who offer quiet attention to the small and (apparently) insignificant things.

Wisdom resides in "the secret place of thunder," the place where God speaks and we listen, where God reveals and we behold. 

In the stillness, “I hear a voice I had not known.”  Stillness is not so much the absence of motion, but a state of patient attentiveness.  But if we consent to this patient attentiveness, we can find a voice carried to us on rising steam, falling leaves, sounding waves, and airy clouds.  Hidden “behind” these is the place we meet with God, the secret place of thunder.  

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.

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