Listening for the Call, Following God’s Voice
by Rev. Maryann De Simone, M.Ed.
Rev. Maryann De Simone
Hi, everyone. It’s wonderful to be here with you.
What I’d like to talk about today is listening to and following God’s Call to us. From my own spiritual perspective, each of us is the Divine in expression, an aspect of God that never has been and never will be created in precisely the same way, with a potential for expressing that spark of Divine life as no one else can. So at one level, our Call is simply this: to be ever more fully the Self we’re created to be, to express as fully as we’re able the gifts and talents we’ve come with. For me, it follows that when we use our abilities with the intention of following our Call, we bless and help heal the world. I believe that’s what we’re here for and that that’s what brings us joy.
Now, though being one’s Self is a simple idea, it’s a long and sometimes truly challenging undertaking. We have to deal with doubts about our abilities, voices from the outer world that tell us we’re crazy to pursue a given path, and just plain old regular inertia—- or laziness, as my mother would have called it. If we’re comfortable where we are, it can be awfully hard to let go and start over. And sometimes we’re called to do no less.
To add to the challenge, the Call we receive in our twenties or thirties may become stale as the needs of our soul’s growth change when we move into midlife and beyond.
That little ego which helped us get to places where we feel acknowledged, productive, and prosperous won’t move aside without a lot of kicking and screaming. For those of us who’ve been the most successful in the world’s eyes, answering a new call can be an even bigger challenge. Sometimes that “still, small voice” has to become the Divine two-by-four before we listen. Which doesn’t mean everyone will choose to. Facing the fear of change or of stepping out into our power can be nearly overwhelming for some.
In Chapter 3 of Exodus, God tells Moses he is to go back into Egypt, free the Israelites from their bondage to Pharoah, and bring them out into a land flowing with milk and honey. Well, Moses had left Egypt because he’d killed an Egyptian. By this time he’s pretty comfortable in Midian. He’s built a prosperous life, has a family, freedom, and there’s no one looking to punish him for murder. Why would he even think of going back to Egypt?? In verse 11, Moses responds to this direct call by his God: “And Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Besides, he adds later, I’m a stutterer. Who’s going to listen to me? I’m not that smart, Lord. I’ll bet there’s some other guy better than I am to do this job. So goes the story. And it’s often our story.
When we’re called, we may feel unequal to the task. We might hear those childhood voices come up about what our family does and doesn’t do. About what we’re good at and not so good at. About what our place is. About how we’re too old or don’t have the right skills. We may feel stretched into directions where our confidence is low.
God tells Moses He is with him and it’ll be okay. He directs Moses to use his brother Aaron as his spokesman. God even gives Moses access to the Divine power to transform his staff into a serpent; to make his hand leprous, then whole again; and even to take some water from the river and change it into blood. Miracles. Still, Moses wants to deny this direct call to free his people. This is the task he has been born to do, yet he’s afraid, even with assurances from the mouth of God. These days, most of us don’t encounter a burning bush, but we can hear God’s voice within if we attune ourselves to that direction. Some of us find listening hard, because we live in a culture that encourages going as fast as possible, working and even playing in a “productive” way.
How DO we hear the Call and know if it’s real, or simply ego masquerading as the Divine? I believe that there are several ways to discern whether what we hear is a true call. For one thing, when we engage in activities that link us to it, we’ll find a sense of peace and deep joy, even when the actual work is hard. Even when those fear thoughts arise. The thoughts that tell you seventeen really good reasons this would never work. I mean, you’re five years from retirement, or my God, you can just hear your father calling you a perpetual student, not in a complimentary tone, as you say you’re returning to school. The challenges are as diverse and creative as we are.
Many years ago now, I moved from a career in marriage and family therapy to one in elementary school counseling. From the first few weeks of my current job, I sensed this really was what the Buddhists would call my right livelihood. The position was challenging on many levels, yet my heart was—and still is— opened again and again by my work with parents, children, and our staff.
And the serendipity factor, that sense of the Universe moving in ways that support our journey, may often be seen—if one looks. Speaking again of my career change, I’d gotten my school counselor credential in a slightly different way from some, since I wasn’t a teacher, and already had a masters in counseling. It was only after I’d received my credential that I realized that every application I picked up for a job asked for my teaching certificate. I didn’t have one. No one wanted to hire a school counselor who wasn’t also a trained teacher, and never during my course of study had anyone mentioned that this might be an obstacle! I was stunned and very depressed.
Three years later, still without a school counseling job, I took a position with a mental health center about an hour and twenty minutes from my home. They contracted with local elementary schools to provide school counseling, but also wanted the person they hired to do family therapy at their center. Perfect fit.
The director had really questioned my ability to handle the commute. No problem, I assured her. I lasted about three and a half months, until driving there and back in the rainy, dark, northwest winter had me totally exhausted. Telling my boss was very hard, but I knew I couldn’t go on. I promised her I’d stay until they found a replacement, and faced her horror as she told me it had taken them three months to find me. Somehow I knew in my heart this wasn’t my job, so it must belong to someone else. When I told her that, she looked at me as though I was totally nuts, but a great candidate showed up within the week.
The punchline of the story is that I’d done a good enough job in that short time that the principals I’d worked for wrote me evaluations which got me my current job. My commute is about 6 minutes, through tree-lined streets in my very own community. This is my 16th year there. Without the short-term position, I’d have had no elementary experience and probably wouldn’t have been considered.
So, back to Moses….. We know the end of the story. Moses finally takes that walk into his call and leads the people of Israel. And several times, he finds support for his leadership. When they’re fighting the Ameleks, and he needs to raise his hands to assure success, his arms get tired, and others hold them up and give him a rock to sit on. When he’s spending all his time acting as judge among the people, his father-in-law, Jethro, tells him he should appoint good men to do most of this work, and only hear the most serious problems so he doesn’t burn out. I love this clear evidence of support coming forward, of the availability of such support as we live the life we’re meant to in and for the world. I think all this speaks to the truth of a Call.
When we’re considering the possibility that we’re being called to do certain work or live a certain life, for our good and the good of the whole, it helps to have access to one’s inner voice. The best way I know to increase this access is in the silence of meditation. Now this is also simple and not easy. For one, most of our minds are used to not only constant thought but to multi-tasking. When we try to sit, or even walk, while staying in the moment, most of us experience lots of mental and emotional chatter.
Still, over time, I’ve noticed more mindfulness in myself, more of an ability to hear that “still, small voice”— as well as heaps of formerly subconscious judgments and less than evolved ideas running through my mind. At first, I was shocked and judged myself harshly. But this is part of what Fr. Thomas Keating calls “the Divine therapy,” where, in meditation, we become aware of our wounded places as those previously subconscious thoughts come into consciousness. As we simply witness such thoughts and allow them to pass through, we heal. As our personal healing increases, so does our ability to discern the difference between Divine and ego-driven ideas. And over time, we realize that as we listen, surrender to the direction of that Divine voice within, and live from that direction, that we serve and are served by the sacred Universe. As we stay more fully present to each moment we can, as Michael Learner describes, “ be alive to the way in which…(each) moment is pregnant with the possibilities of transformation” (p. 65, Jewish Renewal). Following the smaller calls that come from day to day and moment to moment becomes more the rule than the exception. And we learn to trust that even following the life-changing ones will not be so scary, because we know we meet Divine assistance everywhere we turn.
Finally, like the writer of Psalm 25, we can say, sincerely, “O my God, I trust in Thee….Show me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths.”
May we gratefully accept those talents and skills we’ve been given.
May we graciously and courageously share them with all whom we encounter,
knowing that God’s will for us is good and only good, and that each of us is a blessing and ever blessed.
And so it is.