There’s a joke my grandfather used to tell about a guy who gets stranded in a storm. Or I guess more accurately, he strands himself in a storm. The hurricane is coming, and everybody’s been told to evacuate, and this guy clicks off his radio and his TV and says, “Nope, I’m staying here until I get a sign from the Lord.”
So the rain starts coming down and the winds start coming up, and water begins to lap at the doorstep. The last truck heading out of town stops in the road and the driver yells, “Come on, grab your bags and get in!” And our hero says, “No thanks, y’all go ahead, I’m waiting on the Lord.”
You can see where this is headed: he ends up trapped on the second story, then out on the roof. A motorboat of rescuers comes by, and finally, in the eye of the storm, a Red Cross helicopter. But the guy waves them off and says he’s waiting on the Lord. Then the waters wash over his house and he drowns.
At last he gets to the gates of Heaven and Saint Peter is standing there waiting, looking a bit miffed. The man drops to his knees and says, “I was so faithful, I waited and waited for the Lord to give me a sign, why didn’t He come to me?” And Saint Peter rolls his eyes and says, “Look, we sent you a truck, and a boat, and a helicopter with a cross on it, what the hell kind of sign were you expecting?”
I’ve taken a couple liberties with this joke; my grandfather was a strict Southern Baptist and wouldn’t have said “hell” even as part of a punchline. But the gist is the same. If you’re going to ask for signs, you’d better not be too particular about what you think those messages are going to look like, or you’ll end up missing your helicopter out of the hurricane.
I have to admit that I spend a lot of my spiritual energy and time asking for signs. I’m not actually daring divinity to prove its existence, since that’s not how I think divinity works. But I am always waiting for the nebulous, numinous thing that will make it all feel valid and real and worthwhile – all the time spent reading religious philosophy and depth psychology and esoterica, all the shuffles of my tarot deck, all the attempts at pathwork and craft and ritual. I’m waiting for the life-changing event that will make me think and believe and be differently.
By this definition, no signs have come to me. I don’t have ecstatic visions or lucid dreams or spirit sickness. I don’t see dead people. I’m not a mystic or a medium. At times it feels like the only answer to the question I’m asking is silence.
But beneath that conviction is another one, less provable but no less persistent. Beneath the disbelief is the sense that I’m up on the roof of my house stubbornly watching helicopters fly by. Or that I’m straining to hear a phone ring through the storm while the person I want to talk to is standing yelling in my ear and waving their arms: I’m right here, you fucking idiot, just look, what the hell kind of sign are you expecting?