By Jonathan Vogel-Borne
So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. —John 4:46–50
WHEN DESCRIBING HIS SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE, one of my early mentors exclaimed, in his endearing rhetorical style, “How much evidence do you need?” In my late teenage years, my first experiences of the divine were filled with signs and wonders, incredible power, amazing visions, and deep joy. I was convinced that my turning was part of a much bigger turning in the world. At any minute I would see Jesus’ coming in clouds of glory. I was on fire for God!
Those early ecstatic openings gave way to a more grounded, settled life of service. I grew up during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. The social, political, and spiritual movements of the time galvanized my generation to believe that we were going to change everything. We were going to turn the world away from violence, oppression, and environmental collapse. We would usher in God’s peaceable world, living the vision of shalom.
The popular music of the day—broadcasting in what felt like a singular voice, no matter what the genre—provided a soundtrack for that change. The half million people who attended the 1969 Woodstock concert heard, in Joni Mitchell’s song reflecting on that event, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” But the years took their toll. Don Maclean’s apocalyptic song, “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie,” is a lament for “The day the music died.” The hope of a generation began to fade.
Throughout the 1970s, I continued to hold fast to that vision of a peaceable world. I played electric violin in rock n’ roll bands, lived on a commune in northern California, and participated in various peace actions. When I began to understand that playing music was a form of prayer, I was called into ministry. I sought to turn the inward experience of God’s love outward towards the healing of the planet. I was active among Quakers, organizing conferences, coordinating peace witnesses, and visiting local Friends meetings. I discovered that my ministry is to nurture the ground of our faith so that we, as individuals and as people, can rise to Spirit-led action, fulfilling God’s purposes on earth.
Jesus’ terse put down of the Capernaum official, “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe,” makes it clear that deep faith has no need for confirmation by miracles. But in my experience, those signs and wonders can also be reassuring, evidence that “the Lord God is at work in this thick night,” as George Fox, one of the Quaker founders would say.
As I have gotten older, the weight of the world has pressed in on me. While I try to maintain what I call, “age appropriate earnestness,” that optimism is in constant struggle with cynicism and despair. The world appears to be spiraling ever deeper into division, judgement, hate, and fear. The struggle is soul numbing. I yearn for signs and wonders that show me that what I am seeing cannot be the full reality. I yearn to hear with Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
Last spring, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. I was given a fresh sense of how God’s Spirit is moving in the world and in my own life. These experiences even came with a set of verbal instructions.
The first instruction was about my local Quaker meeting community. Any of you who have ever sat in the silent waiting style of Quaker worship know that the quality of that worship is, to say the least, variable. I was at a point in my own Quaker meeting where it became increasingly difficult for me to sit in worship. I even found myself making plans to avoid it. Then a word came to me in the form of a question: “rather than avoid worship, what if you committed to it?” Wow, a very simple question. Answering “yes” to that question, committing myself to attend, has made my experience of worship amazingly deeper and more nurturing.
The second instruction happened during meeting for worship. I was led to sit next to a person in my meeting who frequently offers messages, some helpful, some not. As we sat side by side, I felt a quickening turn to the quality of the silent waiting and heard the words, “Stay right here.” Moments later the person rose and spoke what felt like true ministry.
The last word in this series came in worship a few weeks later. I arrived at meeting in a restless state. As the meeting gathered, I sought grounding in the Spirit and then heard the straightforward message, “Notice your judgements, let them go.” Oh, so simple, yet such a challenging to live out.
I am totally convinced that God’s Spirit continues to shape my soul and is at work in the world. I really do not need more evidence to know that this is true. But through these recent experiences, many of the encrusted scales of numbness, cynicism and despair have fallen from my eyes. With this new vision and renewed faith, I am more able to see signs and wonders, the small and large miracles that happen every day. Praise God!