Hearing the Voice of God
When I was a counselor at Camp Sunshine at Sebago Lake in Maine a few years back, I was walking fast (as I usually do) up the trail from the water to the camp when suddenly a little girl grabbed me by the leg and stopped me. I recognized her right away. She was one of my favorite kids at the camp, about 8 years old and usually full of life and laughter. At this moment, however, she was crying and completely out of sorts. I stooped down and said her name, asking what was wrong. “I was calling your name,” she said, “but you didn’t hear me!”
I have often thought about this incident as a metaphor for the spiritual life. How often we are busy, rushing here and there, and can’t hear the voice of God through it all. God, like “the hound of Heaven” that Francis Thompson described, continues to pursue us, like the little girl at camp, calling us by name the whole time. But we don’t hear it. Even the sound of our own name doesn’t break through the din of distractions that daily life brings.
This makes today’s readings especially worth reflecting on. On Mount Tabor, the voice of the Father announced at the Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.” The scene calls to mind three previous moments in the life of Jesus, also moments of epiphany when the identity of Jesus was revealed. At the wedding feast in Cana, when Mary summoned Jesus and alerted him to the embarrassing problem that the host was running out of wine, Jesus demurred. Mary, sure that her beloved son would help, turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Some time before this, Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan. A voice from Heaven was heard to say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” as the Holy Spirit cane upon Him in the form of a dove (Matt 3:17). Finally, as Jesus approached his Passion and death, entering into Jerusalem, He prayed, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” According to John, “[A] voice came from heaven [saying], ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’ The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him’” (John 12:27-19).
Twenty years ago there was a thoughtful show on TV called “Nothing Sacred” that followed the life of an inner city parish priest and other parish ministers. In one episode, Fr. Ray is talking to a woman who was struggling with voices. The priest recounted the scene from John 12 above, reminding her that not everybody heard the voice of God: some heard only thunder. Then, poignantly, he asked, “Is it crazier to hear thunder and to think it is the voice of God… or to hear the voice of God and to think that it is only thunder?” Is there thunder in your life or mine that we have not recognized yet as the voice of God? It is worth reflecting on!
Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Father in Heaven says, “Listen to Him.” Everything depends on this. The wedding feast and the eternal wedding feast both require the good wine that can only be produced when the water of our ordinary lives is handed over to Jesus. We need to listen to Mary. We need to listen to the Father. We need to listen to Jesus. And as we said last time, we need to “listen with the ear of the heart” for every utterance of the Holy Spirit, though it be like a “gentle wind” (1 Kings 19:12). That’s a lot of listening, isn’t it? But don’t you fear hearing only thunder? Don’t you worry that in the craziness of life we might not hear the voice of God, even is She is chasing us from the baptismal waters to our camp crying out our name the whole time?
Listening requires slowing down and being intentional about hearing. It requires prayer, especially of the contemplative sort. Something like Lectio Divina could be the spiritual tool we need to hear the voice of God speaking to us lovingly, personally, each day. Here we read a passage of Scripture and then dwell with it, listening to the Word of God not as a past tense word that was once spoken and written down, but as an always fresh present tense voice speaking to us in this moment uniquely. Here, Christ will tell us what to do with the water of our lives. Here, Christ will turn it into wine. Here, our lives will be transfigured.