A few years ago, I was rushing to catch the Staten Island Ferry. Missing the ferry could mean a 30- or 60-minute wait for the next one. I had minutes until the next departure. Nothing else was on my mind.
A man stood at the top of the stairs asking for money. I had seen him several times before. But wouldn’t you know it, of all times, this was the moment that he approached me. My response? “I don’t have any money on me, but I will pray for you.” Little did I know that this was the beginning of one of those unforgettable moments when God breaks through the hustle of everyday life.
“You will?” he asked me.
“Yes, I will,” I responded while at the same time the tension in me was mounting because I HAD TO CATCH THE FERRY.
“Will you pray for me right now?”
Something in his voice made me realize how important my offer was to him.
“Yes,” I responded. “What would you like me to pray for?”
“I want to hear God’s voice.”
“I want to hear God’s voice.” Doesn’t that capture the longing present in each one of our hearts? The reality is that God does speak, but that we have a hard time hearing. God says as much in Deuteronomy: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” Deuteronomy 30:11-14 [emphasis added]
“I want to hear God’s voice.”
“I want to hear God’s voice.” Doesn’t that capture the longing present in each one of our hearts? The reality is that God does speak, but that we have a hard time hearing.
Through the Gospels offered to us during Lent, we learn with Jesus that to endure the successive deserts of life, we must make our sustenance that which we hear “coming forth from the mouth of God.” We have fallen with the apostles, faces to the ground, upon hearing God’s command to listen to his beloved son. The Samaritan woman stands in for each of us as we struggle to understand who Jesus is. Only after hearing his word can we too make our own profession of faith. We heard that God’s word heals. Were we left astounded by Jesus’ cure of the blind man? Can I repeat with him that I have heard God’s voice through someone whose prayers of intercession have been heard by God? Or do I choose to remain deaf and untouched? With Martha and Mary we have interrupted the task at hand on hearing of Jesus’ arrival, crying out our sorrows and our experience of death. And in return we hear Jesus’ dialogue with his Father, which restores us to life.
Lent is a time in which the Church reminds us of the importance of listening. All of the Lenten practices — almsgiving, fasting and prayer — include or aid us in listening. If we want to hear God’s voice, it starts with learning how to listen profoundly to the realities that are all around us that we often discount as insignificant. It means turning off, at times, whatever noise inhibits us from hearing life happening around us — television, radio, my own inner chatter, pleasures. I am left vulnerable because I am no longer controlling what I am feeding myself. This privation provokes anxiety, and if sustained, fatigue. But if we persevere in listening for God’s voice, we begin to hear him in the “sheer silence” of our hearts, in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, in the meeting of two strangers outside of the Staten Island Ferry.
Every other passerby rushing to catch the ferry that day heard a request for money. I was the privileged person to whom an anonymous man confided the desire of his soul. At the end of the prayer that I said with him for his intention to hear God’s voice, the man said, “I hope it happens.”
Everything in me wanted to say, “It just did.”