The girl lifts the dark wood of the back of the baby grand piano. She bites her bottom lip and looks inquiringly at the adult. She hears some words about the piano having strings, how the piano has hammers that hit the strings when you press the corresponding keys. The descriptions fascinate and inform her, yet the music coming from the chipped black and white keys is still mystery.
The lower keys of a piano have one string for each note; the middle octaves have two strings for each note. The upper octaves—watch closely—yes, when you press a key way up here, three strings ring their existence into the air.
We can hear heavier notes on their own. These sound waves find us confidently with wide, slack movement and lodge in our minds with no need for invitation. For the high notes, however, we must listen more closely. We must listen more actively for moments of musical nuance that might only confide in a small hair or two around our ears.
We express spirit strangely. We try to discern what comes from outside ourselves and what comes from within. The heavens can open, we know that. We learn through the act of prophecy that new vision can be made available. We might encounter vision in the same way we encounter an interesting passerby on the street. But what about the times when the interesting passerby does not pass you by, but approaches you and speaks to you? It is like that, sometimes, that a vision comes. It is not merely seen. It is met with and it is interactive.
Words can open, words can come, and the word always comes, for it is always sent. The word is always going out and so yes, it is always coming, and always coming to everyone. This is the word that John refers to as a proper noun, as the Word, a name for Jesus. The word that “was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2) and that is “the light of all mankind” (v. 4).
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel describes part of a vision given him by God. He sees four figures in a fiery cloud: each has four faces, four sides, and wings. He specifies that the creatures walk straight ahead. “They did not turn as they moved,” he says (Ezekiel 1:9). This clarification is useful, for, as they have four sides and each side has a head, it could make sense for them to turn so a different face went forward, or begin walking right or left, since that too, to them, would be forward. Anyways, they are bright, and their movement is directed by the Spirit—they go wherever the Spirit goes (vs. 12-13). They go forward, yes, but also they seem to “[speed] back and forth like flashes of lightening” (v. 14). Think of a glitch in a film where it looks as though a figure is far away and walking nearer then for a split second the figure is much nearer the screen—then flashes back to being further off, still walking. A forward flashing movement that is somehow perfectly appropriate in its context of brilliance and otherworldliness. By the creatures are wheels. The wheels go in the direction the creatures beside them go. Just as the Spirit is among the creatures and they follow it, so the living creatures’ spirit is in the wheels, and the wheels follow them.
A spirit is compelling; a spirit is something to follow. We must accept only the Spirit we wish to serve, and we ought to test that the word we are taking is, in fact, the Word. We ought to learn about the nature of a spirit’s movement.
The little girl does not know how to sequence notes, but she does not need to know. Not conceptually, anyways. There is a different knowledge and it compels her fingers to roll and drum and spider up and down the keys. She lingers in the high notes, sensing something there that must almost be smelled or tasted—she smiles because she realizes she is, indeed, tasting the music.
Movement of wings like the roar of oceans, like God’s voice, like the tumult of an army (v. 24). Ezekiel watches the creatures ascend and watches more radiant images move above the spans of sky. Glory is so visible and definite in its visibility and in the effects it produces that something can be its likeness (“[t]his was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” [v. 28]). Or perhaps glory is not visible, but is something more real and definite than visibility, and when it is made visible so Ezekiel can glimpse it, that (the visible glory) is the likeness. Put differently: the glory of the Lord Ezekiel sees is a likeness because he can see it.
Sheet music leans back on a music stand. Those notes in the treble clef, they represent the high, three-stringed dulcet sounds you are playing. The sounds you are again and again compelled to return to. Those written notes are the notes, but of course they are the visible versions, the likenesses of the sweet taste in your mouth. The visual communicates them, describes them, but they do not rob the air of the wonder of the music played. More than being a passive listener is the feeling of movement buried deep in your ribcage, a stirring, a spirit moving you. Then your fingers responding to that spirit, taking that spirit as their own. The keys feel the warmth of the fingers, they feel the itch of the desire in the fingers and respond to that spirit with a hammer blinking soft weight onto some strings. Then the strings, the vision, the taste of something more than a mere likeness.
We express spirit strangely because spirit is strange. It comes into and out of us, and when we respond so thoroughly that it is both us moving and the Spirit moving us, our descriptions of the experience is but a likeness speaking to an untouchable truth.
“He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’
As he spoke, the Spirit came into me” (Ezekiel 2:1).