One of the members of the large group who are attending, a man name Steve, has asked the same question for the past two weeks – “How do we know that God is speaking with us?”. The first time Steve asked the question, I thought it was a question as part of his role of facilitator. The second time he asked the same question, I felt it might be a question he is struggling to answer for himself. So I decided to write all the ways that I am certain that God has spoken to me, and to explain each one as succinctly as I can.
I am similar to most folks who have felt the presence of God in the natural world – a beautiful sunrise or sunset that takes away the breath, a nighttime traveling across the Arizona desert where the overwhelming number of stars can be seen, the beauty of a flower, the delight in seeing a hummingbird or other natural creature – I have been scooping toads and frogs from the pool all summer and have taken time to talk with them ( “frog whisperer” my daughter calls me) – of course the toads and frogs just look at me and do what they want, the mystery of the wind which moves the trees, the happy laughter of children, the delight one sees on children’s faces – so many things in the natural world which we all know are a message from our Creator.
The first time I realized that God spoke through Scripture was during a class for women at the parish we were attending. We were assigned three readings in Scripture. Our teacher, a nun, told us that God would have a message in one of those passages just for us. The first two readings were in the New Testament – I don’t remember which books. I remember thinking the passages were beautiful. The last reading was from the Book of Exodus, Chapter 4. In Chapter 3 Moses comes into the Presence of God. In Chapter 4 after being told that God had a job for him, Moses tells the Lord, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” I had been struggling for a long time with an inability to communicate effectively. My husband even complained about the way I spoke. A good friend, my art teacher, had said something I disagreed with, but I couldn’t defend my position.
When I read the passage from Scripture, I began to sob and continued to do so for some time. I knew that this was God’s message to me. I wasn’t broken or defective, as I had thought I must be. God had a task for me, so I needed to set about it. I spent the next few years learning all I could about how women were socialized, how women learned to speak. I realized that I needed to change the way I communicated. And so I did. My life is more comfortable now, both with my husband and my friends. Though I am still not good at arguing, at convincing someone of the “rightness” of my thoughts – I just don’t think fast enough, I am content that I am who God created me to be. I have learned that I am good at writing and expressing myself through the written word, and that most of the time, I can hold my own when I speak orally.
A couple of years after the class I left the Church. I had had a disagreement with our parish priest. The disagreement escalated until I was no longer comfortable going there. I tried attending another parish but was told that I was to go to my own parish, that I was not welcomed in the new one. So for nearly twenty years, I went to Mass only when I went with my parents for a celebration or family event. I tried living as a Christian and thought that since I had been raised in the faith, I should be okay. I prayed; I read the Bible quite often.
When my dad died as a result of someone’s violence toward him and my mom, who were both quite ill, I was devastated. I spent the nights after dad’s death, feeling guilty about what had happened, for my sister Christine and I had hired this person and worked with her, trusting her. I would often hope after dad’s untimely death, that my life would not be a long one, even counting the years I might still be required to live. I continued to read the Bible, but I am sure I didn’t understand much. I thought the words were beautiful and strangely comforting at times.
One night during this particular summer, I had a dream. In the dream I was in a very white room. There was a party, but I could see no one except one man who was standing against a wall across the room. I knew it was Jesus – I don’t know how I knew. In my mind I heard the words “In Jesus there is freedom.” When I awoke the next morning and remembered the dream, I started searching through the Bible for those words. I thought I must have read them somewhere, but couldn’t find them. So I thought that perhaps it was time to go back to Church. I didn’t know which one. I didn’t want to go to the Catholic Church,, as my experience had been so unpleasant. I would watch the Hyde Park Baptist Church on Sunday mornings and loved the preaching. But as I thought about a choice, I knew I had to go somewhere where the Eucharist was. That meant I had to return to the Church of my youth. So began another journey back to the faith. It was difficult, but as time went on, I knew it was the right choice.
This summer I was reading in the Bible. I had been studying a book “The Catholic Guide to the Bible” by Fr. Oscar Lukefahr. He instructed the readers to read a passage in Genesis that would give us a “flavor” of the particular story he was relating. We were to read Chapter 45 which describes Joseph (of the many colored coat) announcing to his brothers who he is. Joseph said “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with ourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” I began to sob, for I understood now why God had allowed what had happened to my dad. By my dad’s death, his children were saved for eternal life. All the guilt that I had felt for the last ten years, vanished in an instant.
I had come back to the faith the summer dad died. My sister Jean, who died in 2010, had been a faithful daughter of the Church, as far as I know. My sister Christine, who died in 2014, had been married in the Church and then divorced her husband because of his abuse and alcoholism, when he tried to hurt her and her child. Because Christine remarried in a civil ceremony, she thought herself “unwanted” by the Church, though I and others tried to dissuade her. After Christine had a heart attack and was hospitalized for bypass surgery, she called me, afraid that God didn’t love her enough to let her live. I persuaded Chris to speak to a priest before she was taken to surgery. Christine never woke up from the surgery.
Just this past winter my youngest sister Jill was hospitalized after falling at home and breaking her arm. She has been disabled for some years. Jill had pneumonia and CDIFF, suffers from gout and diabetes. Jill was frightened that she would die. She told me that she had done some bad things and was afraid that she would not see her family in heaven again. I asked Fr. Tim to come and anoint her, which he did. Jill now wears a crucifix that I had given her all the time, I take her Communion whenever I can. She is still quite ill, but is holding her own.
I went to Confession this past week and saw Fr. Sang. I expressed my concerns about my sister Jill and how resentful I am, at times, that I am the one left to take care of her, even though she does not live with me. I had not had much of a relationship with Jill until my sister Jean died, as Jill is eleven years younger than me. But I have found myself growing in compassion for my sister. Fr. Sang told me that when I feel those things – compassion for example – that is a sign of God at work in my heart. He said that I should open myself to those feelings and let God do His work. Fr. Sang said much more, but that is what I remember right now.
Father Becker once told us in a homily that there are no coincidences. Everything that happens is a result of God’s work, of God allowing or ordaining it. So many coincidences in my life, and they all have a purpose. Each coincidence is a message from God – that is what I believe.
So often in Confession, what I have been told by the priest is so appropriate to the situation I find myself in, that I know God is sending me a message of love, that He is directing me.
My life has changed dramatically since my dad’s death. The freedom that I was promised in the dream ten years ago has come to me. I am still struggling to be the person God created me to be, but as Fr. Sang has told me, stop struggling, just relax and let God do His work in me. I am God’s child, and He is directing my life, helping me to grow as He wants. When I am unsure about the direction I am going, Fr. Sang says to talk to God about it. If my decision gives me peace, then God is saying “that is what I want for you”.