Where had I head that phrase before? Do you ever get that feeling? You can’t think where you have heard that thing…or you can’t quite put a face to that person…or you recognise the name of that place but can’t remember when it was that you went there? I guess it gets worse with age but it happens to us all; doesn’t it?
It struck me on Thursday as I was attending a retreat for pre-accredited Baptist ministers in Perthshire. Our new ministry advisor was present, as was the retiring one and it was an excellent day, as these things usually are. A time for spiritual refreshment, for catching up with colleagues and a time for ministers to receive and be ministered to in the midst of the busy lives that we often lead, ministering to others. Great as that privilege is, we need to take time to retreat.
But it was when our new ministry advisor started to speak on Revelation chapter 8 that feeling came to me. It was when he read a poem by George Herbert which includes the phrase, ‘reversed thunder’. Where had I heard that before?
I knew it was the title of a book. I scanned my bookshelf in my mind, trying hard to focus on the wonderful way in which the imagery of Revelation 8 was being unpacked, it was there but I could not recall the author or whether I had read it or not. Anyway, Revelation 8:1 talks of silence in Heaven. It was when the seventh seal was opened. An angel was given incense which the smoke of, along with the prayers of the saints, was ascending to Heaven. I was there, my prayers being purified by the incense, as are yours, and I was caught up in this wonderful imagery.
Back to the reversed thunder though. I could see the book now. It is by Eugene Peterson. But I have not yet read it so sadly I cannot give you a commentary. Yet, it too is about prayer and sub-titled ‘Praying the Imagination.’ Now I know will read it and no doubt you will hear about it here but for now I allow my imagination to play with this phrase ‘reversed thunder.’ I can hear a thunder peal booming from a low rumble to a deafening and terrifying roar. What happens if we reverse the roar? It reduces, or falls way, to silence. Reversed Thunder is silence.
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven for about half an hour…The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went before God from the angel’s hand…Rev. 8:1-5
When we pray there is silence in Heaven because God listens as Jesus intercedes and purifies our prayers. (Purification is what incense does in the O.T.) How deafening then is our reversed thunder before God?
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.