I intended to write about St. Patrick today. After all, it is his feast day and he was one of the greatest missionaries in church history, arguably the greatest. However, walking into church early this morning a friend drove by in his truck and chatted with me a bit. He shared that his brother-in-law had died this week. While he was home for the funeral he heard a wonderful story which I want to share.
Over a decade ago his sister's son died. At the time there were some "strange" goings on which felt like a miracle (involving a rainbow). The family took comfort in this time of sad loss because the Lord seemed to be there. My friend told me today that there was more to the story which he only found out at the funeral Friday. His sister had put down her other child to nap and gone outside to weep where she would not be heard. It was something she apparently did regularly. Standing alone in the yard she heard someone call her name. She spun around and saw no one. This occurred three times, then the voice said to her, "As much as you loved him, I love you more." She related that there was a sense of peace which surrounded her which was inexpressable.
Hearing the story gave me goose bumps. It also brings to mind many other parents who have suffered great loss. I know of other cases where the communication of hope is just this strong and overt. People who are ordinary and not prone to such things relating (reluctantly) that a voice, or a vision, had provided them with contact with the divine realm. Like I said in the title, I wish God did this more. I wish He did it with me.
So, in taking it a step further, let me share what I have come to think about such things. First, because I heard this story when I did, first thing in the morning just before I write this blog, God has provided a venue to share this event (which, I might add, only happened because my baby woke up three hours earlier than normal, keeping me in the house for an extra hour). You and I may not hear His voice today as she did, but He speaks to us through the story. The message, "I love you more than any mother has loved her baby...shalom, peace," can provide us comfort. We can meditate on its truth and know what is said to her is said to us. Second, the Scriptures are full of such communication. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," "it is not you who chose Me, I chose you," or "as the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you, live in My love." Isaiah says that He has carved our name in the palm of His hand, that even if a mother could forget her child, He will never forget. These are but a few verses which convey the message. They are no less true for being found in the Holy Book rather than an experience of a voice. In prayer and openness God can comfort your heart through them. Third, prayer and meditation are the normal venue to receive into our mind, heart and soul God's self communication. In our church holy communion is an outward sign of it. So we embrace Him in word and sacrament. We let Him, perhaps silently, hold us close.
Patrick also heard a voice. Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave as a young boy. His lfe as he knew it ended and he became the possession of a pagan. Working as a shepherd in isolation in a desolate spot, Patrick began to pray to God. As time passed, he prayed more frequently until it became "perpetual prayer." Living in a constant state of loving awareness of God he escaped the burden of his slavery and the pain of his isolation. He was no longer alone, he was with God. One day, Patrick heard a voice. It said, "Go home." So the young man, his hair cut a give away of his slave status, somehow walked across the land unaccosted and found safe passage on a vessel, even though he had no money. God's hand at work.
Years later, now a priest, Patrick heard a call to return to these people, whom he loved. His former captors, for all their ferocity and lack of "civilization" (as Romans would measure it by the standard of their own culture), had captured his heart. Patrick was made a missionary bishop and returned with a small monastic band, including lay men and women. He went from place to place, setting up a prayer community outside of villages. Over time, their example of love and kindness couple with their works of mercy brought people into their circle. Having made connections they preached and taught the faith. Belonging preceeded believing. Utilizing the local customs and imagery from their world, Patrick was able to convey to them the faith in Jesus which was at the center of his life. Patrick assumed that the love he had for these people was nothing compared to the love God had for them. Patrick believed that coming to Christ occurs in a community of faith (remember how Jesus had a band of apostles). Patrick is not the only saint who heard a voice from heaven. One recalls St. Francis' voice ("Francis, rebuild my church, which you can see is falling down") or the mystic Dame Julian of Norwich (the first female author in the history of the English language, she heard the words, "All will be well, and all will be well, and in all manner of things, all will be well").
God speaks, perhaps more than we realize. But he doesn't speak to those who demand signs and proof. Sorry, for such there is only eye (&ear) witness testimony. But that testimony is powerful. It is an open door for us to enter a more intimate experience of faith and trust and love. It is also a reminder that in the silence of our prayer, the God Who is not talking, is still loving us. Loving us more than any mother has ever loved her child. And that is alot.