Do You Know the Way?
By Rev. Jenn Tafel
July 15, 2018
Good morning! It is really good to be here with you folks again.
I was a latch-key kid when I was growing up. It started in first grade. When I was in Kindergarten, I was lucky enough to ride the bus to school. I don’t know what happened during the summer when I turned six, but apparently I grew strong enough mentally and physically to handle the challenge of walking to school by myself; and to be fair, I think my sister was with me. We would walk up the street and around the corner to the home of other kids who walked to school. I don’t remember how we met, but I suppose my parents had something to do with it. We’d gather those kids and walk to the next house and gather more kids and so on. This would continue until we had this group who gathered at a designated corner where a crossing guard would guide us across busy streets and intersections the rest of the way to our elementary school. I could lie and say it was uphill both ways and snowed the entire time…but I think you can imagine this scene without the typical embellishment. Yes, it was a challenge in winter (this took place in Falls Church, Virginia)—but there were lots of sunny days and days in autumn with crunching leaves. I remember smelling the honeysuckle flowers and stealing flowers from some of the yards to give to my teachers. I remember thinking how big the sixth graders were when I was only in first grade. I remember the snowy mornings hoping my friends’ parents would give us a ride. These classmates and friends from my neighborhood were some of the closest friends I had growing up.
If for some reason I had to walk the way to school by myself at six years old, I’m not sure that I would know the way. The street was long and the journey was far—just to get to the first stop. If you ask my mom, she will tell you that I was timid and shy as a child. I know, hard to imagine, right?! Yes, it’s true. And even at this stage of the game there are times when I let some of my fears get the best of me. I honestly don’t want to try different things if I don’t know what to expect.
However, that is not how we grow, right? As people of faith are we not called upon to enter into difficult situations? Are we not called upon to speak up for the sake of truth and to speak out against injustice? What happens when these two parts of our self are put into conflict with each other—the part that is scared and the part that wants to take action? This is when we can turn to Scripture and the God we know and trust for guidance.
In the portion from Isaiah we read:
20 Though YHWH may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide from you anymore; your eyes will see your Teacher. 21 And when you turn to the right and when you turn to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way—walk in it.”
And from our Gospel reading:
27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand.
One thing both of these passages have in common is the sense of hearing. In the midst of confusion or adversity our God will guide us—if we listen we will hear where we are supposed to go.
In his book, Correspondences of the Bible: The Human Body, John Worcester dedicates over ten pages to the ear and sense of hearing. He says:
The external ear is an organ for receiving and collecting the vibrations which we recognize as sound.
The particular stream of pulsations which shall be received by the little bones is in a considerable degree determined by small muscles, which, by pulling upon the bones, regulate the tension of the membranes, and thus tune them to receive most distinctly the sounds selected.
It is in part because the ear has this power of selection that the Lord commands us, “Take heed what ye hear.”
Swedenborg believed that both motions existed—that the larger forms of motion and of sound were communicated by the general motions of the bones and fluids, and that a more subtle tremor permeated the very substance of the bones, membranes, and fluids.
The things which enter by the sense of sight, enter into man’s understanding and enlighten him…but the things which enters by the sense of hearing, enter into the understanding and at the same time into the will; wherefore by the hearing is signified perception and obedience.
If you know me, you know that obedience has not been my strong suit. I excelled during the rebellious teenage years and have always questioned authority. When I studied with one of the tenured feminist theologians at Pacific School of Religion, I learned what a “hermeneutic of suspicion” was. A hermeneutic is “a method or theory of interpretation—specifically the Bible or other literary text.” And so you can gather what a hermeneutic of suspicion is. She wanted us to read the Bible and our interpretive lenses with a grain of salt. I knew I was in the right place when I heard this explanation. I suppose I had been operating with a hermeneutic of suspicion for most of my life!
But wait a minute—how does this method of Biblical interpretation apply when we are supposed to follow God and the leading of the angels? If you’re looking for me to supply you with an absolute answer that applies to all situations—you’re going to be disappointed. What I can share is what I have found that works. I understand the text to not only be historical depictions and records of a specific place and time, but also depictions of a journey—the one that continues to unfold in my life. There are truths and values that speak to my heart and soul. This is when I know I can follow what is being said and how it can be used as a guidance system. When texts speak to my soul—that is when I can be obedient and know that I am being guided by a force greater than myself. Spoiler alert—when I follow my own way without consultation, prayer, listening, or other ways to connect with God—I fail miserably.
Do I know the way? Yes—I ask for the assistance of angels for situations that seem scary or daunting. There’s a saying, “When we are at our weakest, God is at Her greatest.” This was absolutely true for me on my way home from Convention. I said these words in prayer and asked for help since I could barely walk by the time I got on to the plane. God showed up and so did the angels. Some of the gate attendants in completely different cities had a variation of the name Angel. That almost took my breath away and was confirmation I was on the right track if I believed and trusted that I was in good hands.
We all have an inner guidance system if we choose to listen.
Where are you being led? Are you listening?