When was the last time we had a good thunder & lightning storm in the PNW? We’ve had windy days, but we don’t get many storms with thunder & lightning – so when it happens – it’s exciting to count the seconds between the strikes of lightning and claps of thunder to determine how close the storm is. When we visited the Kennedy space station in 2016, we watched a time-lapse of lightning strikes from the International Space Station. THAT was fascinating. I had no idea how few storms we get in the PNW until listening to someone from the south talk about how much they miss a good storm. Looking at a meteorological map, it turns out the west coast has the fewest lightning strikes – at about 5 days per year, compared to 80 days a year in places in Florida.
Since I no longer have access to my green & white childhood set of Encyclopedia Brittanica, I’ve turned to Wikipedia which says: Ancient cultures interpreted thunder and lightning as the voice of God.
Lightning plays a role in many mythologies, often as the weapon of a weather god. In Indo-European mythology, the thunderbolt was identified with the ‘Sky Father’; For Ancient Greeks, Zeus was the god of thunder & sky, with the ability to throw lightning bolts. Ba’al was the god of thunder among the Canaanites. Thor also depicts a god that controls thunder. For Ancient Jews, lightning was a symbol used for God’s unspeakable name, Yahweh. Some scholars believe – Yahweh – was originally the word that described a lightning flash, perhaps even the word that caused the bush in the wilderness to look like it was on fire when Moses encountered the voice of God. Thunderbolts as divine weapons can be found in many mythologies, a symbol of cosmic order, “steering the course of all things”.
A lightning bolt is still used for action heroes. It marks Harry Potter’s forehead as the boy who lived. Lightning bolts, are still used as symbols of power.
Eric Elnes writes in The Gift of the Dark Woods:
In every mythology in the Ancient Near East, the elements of lightning & thunder are depicted as instruments for conveying the voice of the highest deity. When the ancients spoke of the deity flashing lightning and chasing it with claps of thunder, they meant that the voice of the divine often comes through momentary flashes of intuition or awareness that trigger sensations that reverberate within us like rolling thunder. The ancients articulated these weather patterns as a way of helping them negotiate the path of life. The ancient metaphor of the Dark Wood is that inner terrain you negotiate through intuition, imagination, and indirect ways of knowing rather than through direct perception.
In the Bible, weather phenomena indicated God’s holy presence. In Ex 19:16, Moses would ascend Mt. Sinai while the people below witnessed thunder & lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain indicating the presence of God. Psalm 77:18 – Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled & quaked. Psalm 29:3: the God of glory thunders, the voice of the Lord is powerful, full of majesty.
Listen to the passage again from Job 37 this time from “The Message” –
“Whenever this happens, my heart stops— I’m stunned, I can’t catch my breath. Listen to it! Listen to the rolling, rumbling thunder of his voice. He lets loose his lightnings from horizon to horizon, lighting up the earth from pole to pole. In their wake, the thunder echoes his voice, powerful and majestic. He lets out all the stops, he holds nothing back. No one can mistake that voice. His word thundering so wondrously, his mighty acts staggering our understanding. No one can escape the weather—it’s there. And no one can escape from God.
“Job, are you listening? Have you noticed all this? Stop in your tracks! Take in God’s miracle-wonders! Do you have any idea how God does it all, how he makes bright lightning from dark storms, How he piles up the cumulus clouds— all these miracle-wonders of a perfect Mind?
The Bible records a number of other stories of thunderstruck experiences of the holy. Jacob dreams about a ladder of angels and has this insight:
“Surely God was in this place and I, I did not know it”.
Isaiah is in the Temple when he has a vision of the holy and is called to be a prophet. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary with the words, Greetings, Highly favored one. Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted early Christians, was literally knocked down, blinded, then transformed with a new name – Paul. ALL of these biblical characters lead a different life AFTER their experience of God. Something pivots – clicks in – after being thunderstruck by God.
For the disciples, something clicked for them in being thunderstruck as well. They were in a boat with Jesus when
“Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat.” They were afraid and woke Jesus up: “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” Jesus gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, ‘Why are you frightened? Do you still have no faith?’” “Overcome with awe, they said, ‘Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!’”
In this passage, the disciples experience a soul-shaking revelation that stays with them beyond the initial moment has passed. Their lives are altered after this encounter. Not every revelation comes in such an extreme moment of life or death, or when we’re in the Dark Wood, but when things are going well, there are fewer reasons to be looking for something more, something better, brighter -because we’re content or perhaps complacent with the way things are.
What we should remember is that thunder & lightning don’t just appear out of nowhere – they are always found in midst of a storm. In our lives, thunderstruck moments can come when the storms of life are raging or from a place of discomfort or in the Dark Woods and we cry out to God, Stand by Me as Stuart sang.
The greatest revelations are often found in the midst of turmoil. Disciples don’t come away from this revelation with all the answers. Even after this striking revelation, they don’t have the whole picture. But they do have greater insight, a small piece of the puzzle. Their viewpoint has shifted by what they have seen, heard. Sometimes experience matters more than having answers.
We wonder why God doesn’t speak to us today like God spoke to people during biblical times, but on the flip side, we often use science to explain away whatever we don’t understand. Ancient cultures turned to what they could see in the natural world, to bring a sense of meaning and purpose to the unknown. Being Thunderstruck is still one of the ways God speaks to us…how God catches our attention. There is this unexpected flash of light, an awareness, an intuition, an ability to see what you couldn’t see before…and then this moment continues to impact your life, sometimes changing everything from that moment forward. We don’t use this word thunderstruck much anymore, but it’s such a great word.
What words do we use instead? shock, surprise, astonished, dumbfounded, speechless, flabbergasted.
Martin Luther found himself trapped in a literal thunderstorm in 1505 – surrounded by flashes of lightning and crashing thunder. He did what many of us do when faced with life-or-death situations: he made a promise to God. If God would spare his life, he would devote his life to God. His life was spared, and he entered a monastery and dedicated his life to serving God. When John Wesley attended a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate in 1738, after sailing back to England nursing a broken heart and failed mission to Georgia, he felt his heart strangely warmed.
Can you identify moments when “the light came on,” or when you experienced an “ah-ha” moment, when every-thing clicked into place and there was a moment of clarity.
These moments of being thunderstruck could also be moments of Awe, like when the disciples were afraid after Jesus calms the storm. Awe is often translated as fear – it can also mean a mysterious encounter with the numinous, the divine. When we feel awe, we have flashes of intuition. Moments of clarity, understanding, seeing the light. Scientists say that opening ourselves to awe reduces stress, increases creativity. And that’s where kids can teach us.
Most kids are curious. They haven’t become desensitized to the world around them. They are interested in everything. Interested comes from a Latin phrase “inter esse,” which literally means “it is in between.” Isn’t that really the work of faith, to be ready to see what’s in between, what’s just below the surface, and what brings heaven and earth together in a fleeting moment, in a flash of lightning, counting the seconds before the next crash of thunder? Are we interested in what God is doing in the world? Are we remaining curious and willing to let go of our agendas and to-do lists for a moment to see where God is leading us today?
Along the way, we may find ourselves thunderstruck, full of awe, not because we’ve achieved some amazing insight, but because as we walk step-by-curious-step with open eyes, we may find ourselves right where we need to be. We may find ourselves using the gifts we’ve been given, showing hospitality to strangers, and experiencing God in ways we never could have imagined. We may find ourselves discovering what’s in the in-between. And in that in-between we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the beauty of God.
Last week I talked about how the uncertainty of the path through the Dark Wood is a blessing in that it teaches us to trust God, these moments of being thunderstruck – these flash moments of revelation and the reverberation that resonates in our souls long afterward – are gifts of reassurance in the face of all that scares us in the Dark Wood and our lives may well be changed.
Revelation could be something God is calling us to do – calling us to be – calling us to go.
Elnes: When the lighting flashes and thunder repeats in our interior journey of the Dark Wood, it is a good sign from God that we are to move in the direction it indicates. It is calling to our deepest self.
SO…Pay attention to those wow moments – moments of awe. They help us feel connected, alive. May you hear the voice of the holy in the thunder & in the silence. Be aware of God’s presence. Be thunderstruck. May your interior being be connected to God’s voice in – as you listen to God’s word for you. Amen!