GodSpeech: Putting Divine Disclosures into Human Words
by Ben Campbell Johnson
Grand Rapids, MI; William B Eerdmans, 2006
Reviewed by Miriam Frey
GodSpeech is based on the premise that Christians do not have an adequate vocabulary for “divine disclosures” or enough role models to teach us the language of God. It invites readers to put into words what they hear from God. To verbalize one’s direct encounter with the Divine allows both the recipient and the community to know that God is alive today and not only the experience of a previous generation.
The book begins by exploring “primary” GodSpeech, which is God’s self-revelation or direct communication with humans. (This is in contrast to “secondary” GodSpeech, which is speaking about God.) Illustrations are included of how people can hear God through direct messages, insights, ordinary events of the day, or an inner knowing. Putting words to one’s experience is never easy because human language is incomplete and words can be ambiguous. “There is a space between the mysterious God who speaks and the individual or community that hears” (p. 16). Because of this space, Johnson explores linguistics as a way of identifying the uniqueness of humans and their capacity to use language to speak to and of God. He thoroughly describes how GodSpeech is acquired, created, comprehended, and dissolved.
I particularly enjoyed the second half of the book. Here Johnson describes several ways of discovering primary GodSpeech: the living church, writing, poetry, painting, and music. While not an inclusive list, the illustrations are helpful for recognizing GodSpeech. The final chapter concludes that being attuned to everyday life is the best way of hearing God’s voice. The book ends with sixty-two reflections by the author of how he listens to God through daily life.
The chapter that caught my attention was the one that describes mentors of GodSpeech. “Mentoring refers specifically to a relationship in which one person instructs another in acquiring the language of God and using it appropriately to name his various experiences and to express what they mean to his faith” (p. 63). Spiritual directors are listed among those who mentor GodSpeech, along with parents, grandparents, pastors, coaches, tutors and writers. As mature persons who are personally familiar with God and know themselves, mentors invite others to GodSpeech through dialogue and asking tough questions. It would seem to me that spiritual directors can play a key role in helping people to acquire the language of God.
GodSpeech inspires me to ask questions of my directees about how they acquired their language of God. It also challenges me, and in turn my directees, to give testimony to “Divine disclosures” so they can inspire and motivate others.
Miriam Frey, DMin, lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and is a member of the Spiritual Directors International Coordinating Council. She received her training at both the Toronto-Jubilee Program in Spiritual Direction and the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She completed a MA in religion and culture as well as a DMin at Toronto School of Theology. She is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and teacher.