Listening 

My oldest son, David is a Navy Chaplin who is stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  I enjoy reading his weekly messages in the news bulletin that he sends me and today i was especially blessed and wanted to share it with you.
A recruit training company was marching from the chow hall back to their barracks. Only a week or two from graduation they were a sharp looking bunch of Marines, marching with pride in themselves and their accomplishments, snapping off column movements with a precision and skill that presented a model for junior recruits to emulate. That is, until a passing Drill Instructor called out, “To the rear, MARCH!” Half of the recruits knew the order did not come from their DI so they ignored it, but the other half tried to execute it. Chaos ensued. With recruits colliding into each other and a complete breakdown of the column the only thing for the DI to do was to call a halt and have them start exercising.
After weeks of training the recruits should have known better the sound of their DI’s voice. Hours spent in training and drilling will leave an imprint of its pitch and timbre on the hearers’ ears. But in a moment of relaxed self-confidence they answered the first voice they heard, rather than discern from whom the order came.
The recruits’ lesson here should be ours too, and it can be recognized in Jesus’ words from the Gospel of St. John, “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Like recruits we have to train our ear to hear the voice of God, and be able to do it especially as distractions become ever more pervasive and persistent.
To train our ear for God’s voice we have to be someplace where we will hear it. We have to go to Church, and in the midst of the prayers and the scripture readings we will train our minds to think and hear the world in the context of the Lord’s teaching. When you catch yourself in a quiet moment humming one of the hymns of the Church, or a litany of prayer, or reciting in your mind a passage of scripture you will begin to understand the value of immersing yourself in Church.
We don’t learn God’s voice just from reading books—even Scripture. We have to encounter God. St. Spyridon, whose feast we celebrated this past Monday, was an illiterate shepherd who became one of the greatest luminaries of the Church. He couldn’t read, but he could hear, and he memorized long passages of scripture simply by listening. Because he loved God and wanted to hear His voice, Spyridon spent enough time where he could hear the Scriptures that they became part of him. He then became part of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea where he was instrumental in settling disputes, thus contributing significantly to the Council’s successful conclusion.
Jesus’ words carry a subtle warning, too: “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” How familiar are we with the voices of strangers to God? How much more time do we spend listening to them than listening to God? For example, I recently decided that I will henceforward refuse to read profanity. If I click on an interesting title and begin reading, the first four-letter word I encounter will be last I read there, no matter how otherwise intelligent and well-reasoned the argument. If it’s word saying at all, it’s worth saying politely, and I was spending too much time polluting my mind with ugly words—strangers’ voices—because an author couldn’t be bothered to avoid them.
We all need to seek and to pray for discernment, because if all of us can learn how to focus on God’s voice, and limit strangers’ voices, maybe then we can know how to respond not to the first voice we hear, but to God’s voice only. Maybe then we can avoid running into each other and causing chaos. Maybe then we can become more like Christ.

Author:

Retired Salvation Army Officer

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