As I read the story about Eli teaching Samuel how to listen to the voice of the Living God, I could not help but think of a story that is playing out in our church community. A lady parishioner went to the Clay County, NC dump for yet another seemingly common unloading of trash. At the dump, she noticed that someone had placed a framed needlepoint profile of Jesus in prayer on the side up against a retaining wall. The former owner, while no longer wanted the needlepoint with a well-worn frame, had placed it against a retaining wall probably hoping someone might want it. As our friend started to leave the dump, she heard, “Are you going to leave me in the dump?” A bit startled, she hesitated and then retrieved the picture and placed it in the back seat of her car. When she got home, she hung the picture in the bedroom. As she was leaving the bedroom, she heard the voice again, “Are you going to leave me hidden back here?” She hesitated, turned around, retrieved the picture and placed it in a prominent place in the living room. The pastor brought the picture to church and framed a Sunday sermon (just could not resist the pun!) around the events just described. The picture never got back to the home of the lady who found it in the dump. It is now making its way around our parish with an accompanying diary. It will go from house to house, from family to family, and be a symbol of Christ’s real presence to the faithful who welcome him into their families and homes. Is this not how Samuel welcomed the Living God after Eli taught him to listen for God’s voice?
Benedict begins his Rule with “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” This is the root beginning of all spirituality—listening for the voice of the Living God with the ear of the heart and looking for the Living God with the eye of the heart. I highly recommend Sr. Joan Chittister’s Monastery of the Heart video course on the Rule of St. Benedict as a way of learning to listen with the ear of our hearts http://monasteriesoftheheart.org/heart-rule-preview.
Modern scoffers and scorners would probably have a field day trying to debunk the voice in the dump; however, the Living God is still flaring forth as energy, power, vibration, and love through the cosmos and our very being. We are the stardust of the Living God. The Living God—the Ground of our Being—is our deepest reality. Created in the image of God our life is one of becoming what we are—divine creatures in union with the Living God. Paul Tillich framed the concept of God as the Ground of our Being. A contemporary commentator reminds us that God is ultimately relationship; therefore, God should be described as the Ground of Our Inter-Being.
Thomas Merton fully understood this. On the corner of Fourth and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) in downtown Louisville, Kentucky he realized the ultimate truth—we are all one with one another, God, ourselves and creation. He felt a oneness with all the people who were busily scurrying around doing their ordinary business. He described them as “shining like the sun”—reflecting the light and beauty of the Living God in their very humanity and ordinariness.
The Living God always speaks to God’s people in various and sundry ways. The primary revelation of the Living God is in creation. As I write this reflection, we are having a mid-January thunder storm in the mountains. How often the Israelites felt the presence of the Living God in the thunder and lightning of his storms and in the fiery explosion of volcanos.
The scriptures also make God known to us. Hebrew mystics, like Moses, heard the voice of the Living God as God passed in front of him. Elijah heard the voice of the Living God as a small still voice passing him in the mountain cave. Jesus, the Christ, heard the voice of the Living God, “This is my beloved son in whom I take delight.”
The Living God dwelling deep-down in the recesses of our hearts speaks to us today. Always looking for the grand and marvelous, we really need to re-train ourselves, like Eli trained Samuel, to listen for the voice of God in the ordinary events and happenstances of life.
Samuel was undergoing his preparation for prophecy under Eli’s tutelage in the Temple. We too must draw aside, like Jesus often did, to pray, to place ourselves in the presence of the Living God. The Risen Christ walks our journey with us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we had been the lady who “discovered” the picture of Jesus at the dump, would we have heard the invitation to take the Christ home and to live in relationship to him? She heard the call, “Are you going to leave me in the dump?” and responded. Families in our parish will be enriched with the love of the Living God because she listened with the ear of her heart.
The Christ challenges us today, “Are YOU going to leave me in the dump?” “Are YOU going to leave me hidden in the back room as you live your life today?”