In early June my teacher, and spiritual director said to me, “Tina why do you run from God?”
Well, I looked her straight in the eye and I said, “that’s easy, it’s because I’m Unitarian.” But she didn’t crack a smile. And she said once again, this time more softly, “Tina, why do you run from God?”
And so I tried again to explain that we UU’s don’t have burning bushes, or tablets on the mount. I explained that we were rational and skeptical and that God didn’t regularly talk to us. But then she asked, “How do you know?”
With those four words she pinned me to the wall. Because you see, I don’t know, because I don’t listen.
So right then and there I made a commitment to spend the summer in the “belly of the fish.” In case you didn’t catch the reference, I’m talking about Jonah, my new favorite biblical story. It seems Jonah too ignored the voice of God. When God asked Jonah to travel to Nineveh to tell the people that there was a better way to live, he not only ignored God but he actually got on a ship going in the opposite direction. I’m convinced Jonah was Unitarian.
As the story continues, God sends a great storm to get his attention and when Jonah leaps into the churning sea, trying to appease his angry god, a mammoth fish swallows him up.
Now most people see the great fish as the danger, but it was in the belly of the fish that Jonah’s transformation took place. The way I read it, God’s was saying; “hold on a second Jonah, pay attention to me.”
So I made the commitment to take this summer as my time in the belly of the fish. I would commit to care for my soul, walk in the woods and listen for the voice of God.
But then the belly of the fish got crowded, life happened as it always does, and the only voices I heard were those around me needing attention, pulling at me, taking away my precious focus. My family, my friends, even colleagues at work all demanding time. I had days that lasted for weeks.
I wondered where the voice of God was in this messy life of mine. And then I began to whine and complain and fuss, not out loud of course only to myself. Until the only voice I heard at all was my own and it was then that I realized…
I was drowning out the voice of God.
I understood, then that this life is the belly of the fish, it’s the place God speaks to me, coaxing my soul out of it’s dark corners, calling me to hear the voice.
So I listened…
My husband, his hand badly burned and in pain… says softly over the phone “ no, Tina stay where you are. I’m really ok. I’ll call Richard and Jo to help me, this retreat means too much to you, don’t come home”
My son Josh sends a note from Iraq, “it’s quieter here this time, the hospital is empty and there are fewer mortars coming into the base, we haven’t had to drop to the ground very often at all and I can’t wait to come home.”
My granddaughter, who is two, squeals in delight as Josh comes off the plane… “Daddy” she screams and she breaks through the crowd to be scooped up in his capable arms.
My brand new grandson coos and murmurs his newborn sounds nestled against my chest fitting perfectly next to my heart.
My father sits quietly as I cut his nails and rub hand cream into his dry hands, he is 83, he is blind and his hearing is going and he asks that I write a list for him, which he cannot read but must have…music he must hear before he hears nothing at all and we write Tchaikovsky’s Concerto Number One and Pathatique, and Tannhäuser and Shaharazade and I write the list and promise to bring the music and in the quiet of the summer afternoon, I hear the voice of god.
And this time, I pay attention.