The Voice â€œin Hereâ€
ByÂ Chris Lowney
From Heroic Living
The Hebrew prophet Elijah finds God speakingâ€¦. Weâ€™re told that Elijah witnessed a â€œgreat wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces.â€ But Elijah perceived that â€œthe Lord was not in the wind,â€ or in the earthquake or fires that followed. Instead, later on, there was a â€œsound of sheer silence.â€ And Elijah heard God speak out of that silence. Those of us who heard this story as children may remember the poetic King James language for this encounterâ€”Elijah heard Godâ€™s â€œstill small voiceâ€ (1 Kings 19:11â€“13).
Perhaps, if we attune ourselves to hearing that still, small voice, we will find it whispered all around us and, more important, from within us. As the Quaker minister Parker Palmer put it, â€œVocation does not come from a voice â€˜out thereâ€™ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice â€˜in hereâ€™ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.â€
And just how might we recognize the voice â€œin hereâ€? The Protestant minister Frederick Buechner hears God communicating to us through our profoundest human concerns and interests: â€œThe place that God calls us is that place where the worldâ€™s deep hunger and our own deep desire meet.â€ And one of my friends, asked how God might influence our job choices, said she saw Godâ€™s fingerprint on our skills and circumstances: â€œThe gifts and talents God has given us are clues as to Godâ€™s plan for us.â€ Another friend spoke similarly, focusing on the passions and interests that not only motivate us to excellence but also touch all those who see our excellence in action: â€œWhat fuels one to perform with excellence has a spiritual quality that inspires, nurtures, and sustains oneâ€™s work. . . . I find when I experience extraordinary talent in someoneâ€”whether it is playing tennis, singing, preaching, caring for the sickâ€”it reminds me of Godâ€™s grace and seems to be a very wonderful way for that person to use his or her time and energy.â€
Anywhere that friend sees human excellence devoted to a worthy end, she sees God at work. Similarly, the nineteenth-century Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins found Godâ€™s voice and presence in countless everyday encounters: â€œFor Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.â€
Perhaps God also speaks through our circumstances, lifeâ€™s unpredictable, unexpected turns that eventually convince all but the most stubborn of us what Fr. Ciszek eventually learned while sitting in that jail cell in Soviet Russia: we donâ€™t control as much of life as we imagined when we were invincible twenty-year-olds. We learn the truth of Jesusâ€™ haunting prediction to the apostle Peter: â€œWhen you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to goâ€ (John 21:18). Scripture scholars interpret that melancholy verse as the Gospel writerâ€™s attempt to explain Peterâ€™s gruesome martyrdom as something other than a total disaster for the fledgling, uncertain Christian community.
But who hasnâ€™t lived Peterâ€™s mystery in some small way? We find ourselves less in control of our destinies than we once imagined. Career plans donâ€™t work out; bodies donâ€™t respond as they once did; unforeseen tragedies, deaths of loved ones, and marital breakups shatter cherished dreams. Some dreams are not merely deferred but die.
Yet remarkably other doors open and other possibilities emerge. We find new ways to make our way forward in the world. Like Ignatius of Loyola, whose dreams of a military career shattered along with his leg, we stand up eventually and walk again. Indeed, our passage through disappointment and trauma can seem, in retrospect, a season of grace. We struggled back to our feet by our own courage and determination, but we also felt an empowering touch, as when Jesus reached out to a death-struck young girl and exhorted, â€œ â€˜Talitha cum,â€™ which means, â€˜Little girl, get up!â€™ â€ (Mark 5:41). We do get up, and in the course of a subsequent lifetime, we often walk farther and climb higher than we first imagined possible. We see that great personal tragedies bear not only sorrow but sometimes the seeds of our own resurrections.
How are we to interpret the alternately serendipitous and disappointing, unexpected and unpredictable, courses of our lives? What is happening when death or financial disaster force us to reconsider what we want from life, when teachers or mentors find and nurture talent we didnâ€™t know we had, when we succeed beyond our wildest imaginings, when managers steer our careers in fortuitous directions, when we arenâ€™t offered the job we wanted so badly, when friends point out opportunities that we didnâ€™t know existed, or when we persist in pursuing a personal passion against all odds of success, only to find that success and fulfillment eventually come? Do such cases merely vindicate human ingenuity, resilience, fortitude, and imagination? Or is God, too, at work in some ineffable way, as Hopkins says, â€œplay[ing] in ten thousand places / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not hisâ€?
Well, why not both? Thatâ€™s how I read Ignatius, the former military commander and take-charge, type-A personality who nonetheless attuned himself to read Godâ€™s will in the subtle promptings of consolations and desolations. Or, as expressed in a great mantra of Jesuit spirituality, â€œFind God in all things.â€
Excerpt from Heroic Living byÂ Chris Lowney.
Image by ky_olsen under Creative Commons license.
Walter Ciszek, SJ: Control the Controllablesâ€”by Focusing Your Energy Where It Counts
By Chris Lowney
Chris Lowney brings a personal perspective to his informal portrait of Fr. Ciszek, the priest who never gave up his faith despite being sent to Russian work camps for 20 years.