Thursday, April 25, 2013

Listening



“Beth!” 

“Be-eth!”

I looked up and immediately shaded my eyes.  From his perch in the crook of the great flowering tree outside the door to Atherton Hall, Sam was busy calling me.

“Hi, Sam,” I said.

“Damn!” He contorted his body through the branches toward the ground.  “I was hoping you’d think I was God.”

Sam was a typical little-brother type.  He had a knack for poking people and getting a rise out of them. I am a typical older-sister type, immune to most poking.

One evening while Sam was busily riling up conservative fundamentalists in our scholars dorm—an easy enough feat since, in my opinion, you can’t spit on the Penn State campus without hitting a conservative or fundamentalist or both—he asked me what I thought.

While I may hold some fundamentalist views, I tend to apologize for apologists.  I take the view that we should stop trying to explain God because we just don’t know—and, to be honest, I wonder, especially around liberal intellectualists like Sam, why anyone would want to follow a God who was so mundane he could be completely understood and explained.  Part of my draw to God is that he knows more than I do.  I like it that way.

So Sam asked me, “Do you really think that God answers prayers?”

And so I said, “Yes.”

“When?” he wanted to know.

“My brother,” I answered, going into the very long, not-coincidence-laden story of his adoption.

“Fluke,” Sam said.  “What else?”

“Coming here,” I said, going into the story of how I knew I had ended up where I was supposed to be.

“Come on,” Sam said.  “I want something more concrete.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Here’s concrete—and unorthodox—but this is how God works with me.  In everything.  Just like this.  I try to do it myself, like I did this morning with my socks.  I look everywhere.  I look where I last put them.  I look where they’re supposed to be.  I look where they’re not supposed to be but where I’ve just been and might have left them.  I look in places that they might fit but no one has looked into possibly since the erection of the building.  No socks.”

Sam looked at me like I was crazy, and I now had the attention of the room.

“So I finally pray,” I continued. “’Lord, please help me find my socks because my feet are cold and I’m going to be late for class.’  And I hear a little voice, just in my head, like. ‘Open your eyes,’ it says.  And there, in front of me, where I had already looked, are my socks.”

“That could be anything,” said Sam.

“It could,” I say.  “But it always works that way for me.  If I don’t pray, I go sockless.  When I pray, there they are.”

“You really hear a voice?”

“Yes.  Kind of.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

So Sam started calling me at odd intervals, trying to trick me into believing he was God.  He finally gave up after a year or more.  Of course, my real trouble has never been mistaking Sam for God but mistaking my own conclusions for God’s voice.  I don’t think God really cares about my socks.  I mean, he might, but really, I think he cares that I know I can’t do it myself.  And I think he cares that I know the sound of his voice and know that he’s listening.

Bearing the way God and I relate in mind, you will appreciate this story.  Recently, after some silence from God on some rather big topics, I wasn’t altogether serious when I prayed, “And Lord, no one is going to take me seriously with this falling-apart purse.  But I don’t have the time or money to do something about it right now.  So if you want someone to take me seriously, you’re going to have to take care of the whole purse issue.”

The next morning, as the bus pulled away from the bus stop, my friend turned to me and asked, “Hey, do you need a purse?”

I walked home with three brand new purses.  Three. 

Of course, I didn’t immediately thank God for them.  Instead, I prayed, “Really?  Really? You listened to the purse prayer?  What about the house?”

I just heard laughter.  Someone’s listening after all.

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