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I am not a whisperer. Nothing about me is silent. I am a loud Italian with laughter as my trademark.
Someone once commented on a dress I wore while on duty at the hospital, saying, “You won’t blend in while you’re wearing that dress.”
Not knowing whether that was to be taken as a compliment or not, I responded—quite accurately I think—“I have never blended ineenot once in my whole life.”
It is sometimes difficult for me to relate to a God who whispers. At least that is my first response. Then I sit back—lean back into my memories—and note the times I have whispered so I could be heard in the midst of noisiness.
I recall my teaching days. That was a time spent with teens that marked their place in the world with raucousness. Noise was the order of the day.
At first, I tried to get their attention by outshouting them, and then by clapping my hands or rapping on my desk. None of those tactics worked, so I remained silent and let the power of silence penetrate the profusion of sound. One by one, they noticed my quiet presence. One by one, they stopped talking, laughing, jostling, and joined me in the sound of silence.
Their senses no longer assaulted, my students could now hear. Together we were able to leave the sheltered nest of our own noisiness and begin our entry into the world of a whispering God.
I remember episodes from the early days of motherhood when I was young, inexperienced and terrified of the tiny infant I held in my arms, a babe whose unending screams stiffened his limbs and turned his body red. I could not figure out what was wrong or what to do. The mystery of infancy overwhelmed me. Intuitively, I began the age-old ritual of soothing, rhythmic, whispering sound. Over and over again, I cooed into my son’s ear, “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay, Mommy’s here.” Very slowly, the screams diminished into silent sleep. Mother and son together entered the world of a whispering God.
Those memories of a life lived many years ago are no less real and relevant today when I am no longer a high school English teacher or a new mother but a quasi-retired grandmother who spends her time writing and doing volunteer work.
I have different nests of noise where I take shelter these days, but I continue to make them my spots for retreat. I still know I cannot remain there. Like Elijah of old, I must “Go outside and stand on the mountain before God; God will be passing by.”
Today, as yesterday, there are moments when I know in my heart God is not in the strong, heavy wind that buffets my mountain, my sturdy spot of refuge. God is not in the earthquake that splits my life in two, causing havoc and terror, as everything I thought was secure turns upside-down. God is not in that topsy-turviness. God is not in the fiery holocaust that inflames passionately angry reactions instead of impassioned loving response.
I may want God to be there, so that I can justify my own whirlwind existence. But I will not find God there. I will only find my own fears.
God does not dwell in chaotic confusion but in compassionate creativity.
When I let the noise pass by—and I do have to allow its passage and not ignore it—then I can hear the whisper of divinity. I can leave the confines of my caved life and enter the world of a whispering God.
Jesus of Nazareth knew the wisdom of that movement and often went off by himself to pray. He left the crowds that were encasing him. He even left behind the disciples who probably drained his energy and empathy with their continuing misunderstanding of his mission. The noise of their needs and demands may well have been deafening. It might have been difficult, even for Jesus, to find God in that turmoil. So he removed himself and sought the world of a whispering God.
The others had all had their fill. They had taken nurture from the man of Nazareth. It was time for Jesus to find his nourishment. In silence and solitude, he drew upon the strength of divinity and welcomed the wisdom he found there. It was good for him to be alone in prayer with God, his beloved Abba, whose mission he was determined to fulfill.
In the wonder and mystery of this prayerful intimacy, Jesus was refreshed, renewed and ready to return to his companions in the boat that was “already several hundred yards out from shore and being tossed about in the waves raised by strong head winds.” [Mt. 14: 23]
Jesus’ prayerfulness empowered him to rise above the tumult, to walk on the waves of fear that were engulfing his friends. By contrast, in their terror, the disciples could only see a ghost of a person. All the wonder they had witnessed, all the commitment they had clutched, disappeared in the night.
Fear nibbled at their shaky spirits and was chasing their faith away. It never dawned on them that God is not in the strong head wind. God is in the simple heart whisper. They gave the strength of that wind permission to swallow the whisper of their hearts. They allowed terror to replace truth.
Jesus could not leave them in that place. With the tenderness of a mother soothing her distraught babe and the wisdom of a teacher who waits until silence pierces the sound to make space for peaceful listening, Jesus reassured his friends. He reminded them of their own ability and of his continued presence that would eliminate all fear. “Get hold of yourselves. It is I. Do not be afraid.”[Mt. 14: 27]
Leave the cave of comfort and take hold of the grace, the giftedness, already in our possession. Do not be afraid to stand on mountaintops buffeted by the winds of time and change. Await the passage of God–not outside of us, but deep within our spirit. Take a chance that God is in the tiny whispers we hear in our heart, despite the roar of those who would say otherwise.
Do not falter. Let Jesus come into our boat of human fear and watch the wind die down. Watch carefully. Listen attentively and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God will not let us sink into the seas of our feeble faith. Our Creator is too busy inviting us to enter the wonderful world of a whispering God.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.