The Response after today’s first reading is one we hear often. It’s a verse from Psalm 95: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could hear, today, the Voice of God? Of course we wouldn’t harden our hearts. The problem isn’t that we are quick to harden our hearts to His Voice, but rather that we are slow to hear His voice in the first place.
Not even slow: it’s just so hard to make out where He comes from.
What does that mean after all? I propose that we have to be attuned to the dialect our God speaks. I once wrote here that I was on a hopelessly crowded bus in Rome when a group of smartly dressed young men boarded, all talking at once. We were probably already twenty riders above the number the bus could comfortably hold, and now these six tall, hearty gentlemen were squeezing their way in. We all took a deep breath and made the best of it. Now I am interested in foreign languages, so I decided that I would listen to see where these new riders hailed from by listening carefully to them above the din. (I’m not talking about eavesdropping, I hope you understand.) First, I would determine what continent they were from. I narrowed it down to either the African continent or South America. I leaned in toward them to try to make an educated guess. But I couldn’t quite place their tongue. Perhaps it was somewhere near Russia? Or one of the Islands? I grew impatient with myself until it suddenly dawned on me that they were all speaking perfect English! How could I have missed that?
The truth is, I wasn’t listening in the right language. I was sure I could identify them as coming from some exotic place, when in fact they were from, can you believe it?–America!. I was so ashamed of myself.
Later in the day I sat quietly in the chapel of the house where I was staying, and thought about why I couldn’t hear correctly. I came to realize that I was listening with ears that expected something else, so I missed the very tongue that was perfectly familiar to me.
I was struck by the fact that I sometimes do that with God. I think I know what He is going to say to me, and that’s what I am trying to hear. So I miss His beautiful, gentle Voice. Or His loving command. Or His expression of compassionate mercy when I think myself unworthy of it. It was a powerful lesson for me: I cannot harden my heart by thinking I know what’s coming from Him, and run the risk of missing the blessing of His very Word. I must listen with an ear to the dialect of the Holy Spirit.
It’s not so hard. His Voice is like honey, the Scriptures tell me, and His Word guides me along the right path. The best way to hear His Voice is to listen without prejudice to what He might say or how He might say it. If the word I hear is violent or diminishes me or threatens me, then it’s not His Voice at all, and therefore not one I want to listen to.
It’s important, too, to make a space of silence in my prayer so that God can speak to my heart–not a monologue with me as the main character. No blare of trumpets announcing His coming announcements: rather, a still and serene heart that is ready to listen, to hear and to understand what He says to me.
Finally, training my ear to hear Him means often coming to a quiet place. Often. Very often. To sit in a place that won’t distract me. I can’t be afraid to be alone and to do nothing except listen. In fact, listening IS doing something. Something beautiful for God.
If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.
Have a blessed week.