It’s funny how things change. A long time ago – it seems forever but it was only 1995 – I used to attend some sort of church service five or six times a week. In addition to the widely attended Sunday morning and Wednesday evening Eucharists, I was a regular at a quiet Tuesday morning Eucharistic service and a semi-regular at a small Friday evening Eucharist. I also participated (either as the officiant or as the lector) in morning prayer on Mondays and Fridays and occasionally on Thursday. I know it seems like a lot of church but it fit in with my weird schedule at that point in my life. I miss it but I don’t know how to get back to it.
During that time, the group that attended the Tuesday morning Eucharist often would go together for coffee at La Madeline after the service. On one of those late spring mornings, I expressed my frustration and disbelief at people who said God told them to do this, that, or the other thing. I said “I have a hard time believing that God talks to these people. Does God talk to you? I know he doesn’t talk to me”
My friend Jackie looked up from her coffee and croissant with an expression of mild exasperation and quietly asked “Are you listening?
I was thunderstruck. I literally had no response.
“Are you listening?”
I thought: I go to church five or six times a week. I pray every day. I’m a lay reader and an acolyte and I’m even (albeit against my will) on the alter guild. I am on the editorial team for the dad-gum church newsletter.
But are you listening?
I said … nothing.
Maybe I wasn’t listening. But with all that church going and church doing, how could I not be listening? Maybe I was doing too much; maybe I didn’t have time to listen.
Over the coming weeks, I encountered the Gospel story of Martha complaining that her sister Mary wasn’t doing enough. I read the story where Peter wants to build booths for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. I was skewered by the words “Be still and know that I Am God.” It all made me think and it all helped me try to listen. I even prayed about it.
As spring turned to summer, the Houston area experienced a sustained drought. After a couple of weeks of it, I began to include the prayer for rain (BCP page 828) in the prayers I offered as the officiant at Morning Prayer. Then something funny happened. Even though the drought didn’t officially break, I noticed that at some point during the day on those days when I prayed that prayer for rain, I would feel it on my skin or see a few rain drops hit my windshield. Maybe it was in Clear Lake or in Kingwood, or downtown, or in Champions or Memorial. Maybe it wasn’t even a proper sprinkle; maybe it was, as some say in South Texas, “just a spit.” Whatever, I knew it was rain and I knew where it came from. Each time, I would pause and say “Thank you, Lord.” This continued for a couple of weeks during which no “official” National Weather Service rain fell.
Then, one afternoon while I was driving west past Ikea on the Katy Freeway, it started. It was odd because it was raining but the sun was shining. Enough rain hit my windshield that I had to turn on my wipers. I remember that as I did, I thought of the old Russian saying for what we call sun showers: “The devil is beating his wife.” At that moment I heard with my ears – not with my mind but with my ears – a masculine voice say “I Am with you.” Just that: “I Am with you.” And no more.
Immediately I felt peace and joy and wonder and awe. And after some days had passed, I doubted and then felt shame.
Had I really heard? Yes, I had. It happened. I am certain. I was listening and somehow I had actually heard the words: “I Am with you.”
I’m still listening and I still hear. I don’t hear that voice but I do hear God. I don’t seem to hear him when I’m praying (which I do very imperfectly); I guess I’m too busy asking of Him. I sometimes hear Him in the service or in the sermon. I hear Him in my reading and sometimes in conversation with a friend. I sometimes feel the small silver cross I wear on a chain around my neck get suddenly heavy or sharp. I know that He is speaking. At times – much to my shame – I’ve tried not to listen.
Now, I only go to church once a week. I am still too busy but I still try to listen. Even if He never speaks directly to me again, I know that He did and I know that He is there. That peace is still with me and I pray that it always will be. It is the anchor that keeps me from drifting away.
It’s funny. It took three words – “Are you listening?” – to prepare me to hear four words – “I Am with you” – that changed my life.
– Charles M. Bear Dalton