The music video for the song that Madeline just sang is, in a word, whimsical. It features five sailors on a ship that flies. The sailors see something falling from the sky, and when it crashes to earth, they hurry to investigate. The meteor-like object bursts open to reveal a beautiful female creature, the only character shown in bright color against the backdrop of an otherwise black-and-white video.
This mysterious, colorful creature joins the sailors on their ship, but suddenly a giant bird attacks them. This is where the video and the song come together. As the band shouts, “Hey!”, the female creature opens her mouth and fires a burst of color at the bird, and the bird disintegrates and crumbles into dust. This creature’s voice, her shout, becomes the defense against more wicked beasts the sailors will encounter in their travels.
The song “Little Talks” has in it two voices. It is a conversation. But something isn’t quite right. These are two loving people, but they seem to be talking past one another. Their voices are aimed at one another but echo down separate hallways in an old, empty house.
A voice is a powerful thing. It is the tool that God uses to make the world at creation. God says, “Let there be,” and there is. God’s voice is generative.
C. S. Lewis imagines a similar scene in The Chronicles of Narnia with the lion Aslan. In the book The Magician’s Nephew, Digory and Polly have found themselves in another world trying to make their way back home. They end up being present at the founding of Narnia. And Narnia is founded by a voice.
The children first hear it, singing a song without words or really even a tune, but more beautiful than anything they have ever heard. And then they see the Singer—a lion. As he sings and walks, grass spreads across the valley, flowers emerge, and trees climb up from the ground. Aslan’s voice, like God’s, creates. It is generative.
The voice of God is something that many people long to hear. And plenty claim to have actually heard it, whether audibly or mysteriously. But the voice of God is itself mysterious.
In the Bible, the voice of God may thunder from the heavens or be whispered in the wind, clearly understood or somehow mistaken for something else. Even in prayer, we may feel like the two people in the song “Little Talks,” not hearing the other’s voice as well as we would like and unsure whether our own voice is being heard.
Much of the life of faith has to do not only with hearing God’s voice but also with finding our own voice. It’s part of why we encourage singing here at this service. Faith is to be shared, to be sung, to be prayed and spoken and heard. Our voices are gifts from God to be used to speak to God and to one another.
But there are times too when our voices must be stilled. Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist, but when an angel appeared to him to tell him what role his son would play in God’s story, Zechariah did not believe him. And so he was struck mute.
Until his son was born and given the name John, Zechariah remained unable to speak. He was a silent witness to his wife’s pregnancy and the birth of his son, and when he finally recovered his voice, he spoke words of praise:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. – Luke 1:68, 78-9
Zechariah’s muteness gave him no choice but to silently witness the miraculous events happening around him. When his voice returned, he did not take it lightly.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, some of the most interesting yet least cinematic of the mythical creatures are the Ents, the tree shepherds. These ancient creatures speak so slowly that it is almost unbearable for the other characters, especially when they speak in Old Entish.
But to the others’ impatience they say this: “You must understand…it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.” It took Zechariah 9 months to say anything worth saying, and until he could, he had to hold his peace.
God sometimes speaks in silence. One of my favorite stories in the Bible comes from 1 Kings 19. Elijah goes to meet God at Mount Horeb, and as he waits, a great wind comes and splits the rocks—but God is not in the wind. Then an earthquake shakes the mountain—but God is not in the earthquake. Next a fire rages—but God is not in the fire. And finally there comes—depending on the translation—a still, small voice, or a sound of sheer silence. Only then does Elijah step out of his cave. God is in the silence.
But I will not be so quick to romanticize silence. I recently had the privilege of hearing a friend share some of his experience raising a child with a disorder on the autism spectrum. At a little over 3 years old, my friend’s son still wasn’t talking beyond a few choice words and a language consisting of grunts. Even as my friend and his wife diligently got their child into specialized preschool and therapy and onto a strict diet, it became clear that this was not just a phase.
My friend had read countless healing narratives like the story we heard from Mark 7, and he prayed for a healing narrative for his son to echo those in the gospels.
But one story of healing struck him anew recently, one found in John 9. In this story, Jesus comes across a man born blind. The disciples ask him a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The question struck home for my friend, and it was as if the disciples were accusing him. What had he or his wife done to cause their son’s autism? What could they have done differently to prevent it? What could they do now? Angry and desperate, he prayed for God to heal his son—“I’ll pay!” he said. “Take my voice if you need it God, whatever it takes, whatever price, heal my boy!”
As he closed his prayer, my friend thought, I’ll bet that did nothing. Just like all the other prayers I’ve prayed for my son.
But then he noticed another part of the story from John 9. Jesus did answer the disciples’ question, after all. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
My friend does not believe that God gives little boys autism to make a point, and neither do I. But my friend realized that perhaps the healing God offered was not for his son. It was himself. Perhaps it wasn’t his son’s voice that needed healing, but his own vision. He had been working so hard to fix his son that he could not appreciate fully just how wonderful this child already was, how God was already revealing his love and joy and beauty through him.
My friend’s son struggles with social interaction, with crowds and noisy places, but one thing he does brilliantly is to sing. My friend says his boy knows probably about 75 songs by heart, and he will sing them in perfect pitch and rhythm, even in harmony with his dad.
For a long time, my friend had tried to get his son to play with trucks or do things the other kids were doing, but suddenly he realized: this kid just wants to sing, and he wants to sing with me. Who am I to stop him?
In the passage from Mark, Jesus touches the man’s ears and his tongue. His hearing and his voice are connected. My friend’s sight and hearing had to be healed before he could fully appreciate his son’s unique voice. And now, even though the pain and difficulty remain real, he can sing along with him.
In our human brokenness, we often talk past one another. We may even feel like we are talking past God. But God’s voice is what made us. God’s salvation song is what sustains us. And it was God’s Word that became flesh and dwelled among us.
We each have a voice to hear and a voice to raise. God can heal our ears, our eyes, and our tongues so that we might sing in perfect harmony with the song that has been sung since before the world began: a song of love, a song of mystery, a song of hope.
So I say to you now as Jesus said to the deaf man: Ephphatha. Be opened. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your mouth. Find your voice, and join it with God’s and with everyone else’s, so that we might all sing with one voice.
Sarah S. Howell