In the last podcast, I dealt with the truth, if I put all things in God’s hands, I will see God’s hands in all things. All things, all things, all things.
Today, we’ll go the little next step further and ask the question, “Is it possible to hear the voice of God?” It’s a very subtle question, and of course it’s a complex question. God doesn’t speak necessarily in words I could understand or in a human way. God speaks and communicates however God chooses to do that. So there’s no pretense about having some formula for knowing and hearing God’s voice.
By the same token, we do live in faith, and we do believe that God does guide and guard and strengthen us. And in some sense, his voice is present in our awareness, however God does that. Even in prayer, saying the Jesus prayer, the theology is, that when we are quiet and praying, saying words interiorly, that in some sense, some real sense, we are also listening to God. That is to say, however we use human words, listening to God’s voice.
One time, I gave a retreat, one of my decades ago, and decided to do a little exercise on the voice of God. So it was after the Divine Liturgy and after coffee hour, and we were in the church basement. It was a large group of people. And I said some things by way of introduction.
Then I gave them some notecards, and I simply asked the question, “Please write down one time in your life you heard the voice of God. Not necessarily in words, but were aware that God was somehow speaking, guiding, giving you a light from his divine presence to follow.”
And truthfully, at that time, I was skeptical of my own—of the response I was going to get. I thought that they would simply blow me off and say, “What kind of question is that?”
To my amazement, the whole group just began to write on the index cards. Ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni. So I stood there, and when they finished, I then said, “I realize it’s a very personal question. Would anyone like to share what you wrote?”
And immediately, the priest in the back put up his hand, and he said, “Yeah, I would.”
So I said, “Well, will you come up to the front and share it with the people?”
And he said, “Sure.”
Then he came up and said a startling sentence. He said, “I heard the voice of God in Pathmark.” Now Pathmark is a large food chain. It’s in various areas of the country. There are various food chains, whether it’s ShopRite or Stop & Shop, or whatever it is. But it’s just a very, very large store that sells food products.
Well, when he said that, “I heard the voice of God in Pathmark,” I perked up, because Pathmark is the store around where I live, as well, and I have never heard the voice of God, that I’m aware of, in Pathmark. I’ve heard a lot of other things, but I could not claim to have heard the voice of God.
Then the priest went on to say that, while standing in the line—checkout line—the woman in front of him had a young daughter of the age of ten or so, and at the door of the food chain was a homeless man, begging. So the woman gave the girl a dollar, whispered in her ear [whispers], and the little girl went and gave the homeless man the dollar. The little girl came back. The mother shook her head “No,” and bent over, whispered in the little girl’s ear. And the little girl went back, gave the homeless man a hug, and then came back to her mother, and her mother gave her a hug.
The priest said, for him, that was the voice of God showing him, telling him how to treat others, especially the poor, whether they be homeless or not. That’s a very interesting little story, because on a human level, we might say, “Gee, that’s a really wonderful thing to see, and I learned something from it.” That’s humanistic. And that’s valid.
However, the priest’s claim is he took it to a whole new level, he took it to a faith level. His claim was that he heard God—God’s voice—speaking to him through the scene that he saw. How does that work? I don’t know. But I do know that I believe that we do hear the voice of God, God speaks to us, in however God does it.
I’ll also say as a disclaimer, personally, I don’t believe in quick and easy answers to this question. Personally. I don’t believe that God speaks to me through the license plates of cars in front of me. That’s not—that’s never happened to me, and I’m somewhat skeptical. So, I’ll simply say that.
In Revelation, the Book of Revelation 3:20, it says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice”—voice—“and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Very interesting. The usual interpretation of the word “door”—“opens the door”—is “heart.” Behold, I stand inside your heart knocking, so to speak, from the inside out, and if anyone opens, hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him.
That’s a lovely little story, and it simply is a way for us to understand what we’re talking about today.
I also heard a lovely little story, apparently true, told by a pediatric nurse in a public school. She was doing the routine physicals for the children, and a boy was there getting his little physical. And the nurse took the stethoscope and put it on his heart and listened to his heartbeat and recorded the little boy’s heartbeat. The boy was apparently in third grade. Then, the nurse said to the little boy, “Have you ever heard your own heart beating?”
And the boy said, “No, ma’am.”
So she said, “Well, would you like to?”
He said, “Oh, yes!”
So she took the ear buds out of her ears and put them in the little boy’s ears and had the stethoscope on his heart, and he heard lu-blub-lu-blub, lu-blub-lu-blub, and then the nurse took the ear buds out of his ears.
The little boy then said, “Is that Jesus knocking?”
“Is that Jesus knocking?”
That little boy was taught well the book of Revelation, and probably the Bible pretty well. In one sense, the first time I heard this story, I thought it was just a bit sugary, perhaps. A little superficial. But I told that to a group of teens, and they loved it. They comprehended the meaning, the deep meaning of “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”
So this podcast is about us trying as best we can to hear God’s voice, to be guided by God’s voice, to believe that God, indeed, does speak to us.
I’m going to play a song of my wife singing, and the song that I’ve chosen for today is “Silent Night.” But I’ll also say that though it’s a Christmas carol, Christmas is not only on December 25th for us believing Christians. No, Christmas is an all-season celebration. Christ was born; we celebrate that. But more importantly, we celebrate his being born anew, again, through us into the world. We birth Christ by our belief in him, by our behaviors, by our acceptance of his voice and then trying to follow it.
So though the song is Christmas, we’ll try to apply it as we can to everything.
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
The voice of my lovely wife, though dead, fully alive, singing to us now, takes us into a new space.
I told the story of the retreat I gave decades ago, and the young priest who told his little story. Very recently, I gave a retreat to a group of priests and had them do this exercise. I’ve done it many times between decades ago and this recent retreat. And I was not surprised this time, the priests wrote very energetically and shared very fully.
So we’re all onto something. I need to learn much more, and perhaps you do too—I need to learn that it is true that God does speak to us, and then it’s a matter of awareness, however God chooses to make his presence and his desires known. But we can be assured that his light does come through to us.