How do you let God direct you?
“Go to a land I will show you.” “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” Okay, maybe I am a bit obtuse, perhaps a bit lacking in faith, but HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? HOW did God direct Abram? It is a valid question, is it not? Inquiring minds WANT to know the process by which that direction happened.
I can imagine the conversation that Sarah has with Abram. “And just like that, you’re going to make us pack up all our belongings and head out? Okay, say I agree. Where are we going? (Pause). Abram mumbles, under his breath. “I don’t know.” YOU DON’T KNOW? Really, Abram, you’re crazy. All right, let’s talk this out. Is that all God said: “Go to a land I will show you?” No other hints? Not even a country name to end up at? Heck, do you even know what direction we’re supposed to be going to follow this Voice of yours? So we’re supposed to set out across the stinking desert with just a promise that somehow, God is going to show us? I got a bad feeling about this.”
Abram went as God directed him. And I want to know the details!
If God is really going to direct me, then I want to know how. How do I let God direct me? Where do I need to put the antennae up at so I can hear the signals God is choosing to send my way? And how do I know what I am ‘receiving’ is truly of God?
Today’s gospel gives us a huge starting place. Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain ends with that same voice that spoke at the Baptism. “This is my beloved son.” But then it adds THREE important words: “Listen to him.” So we know that somehow, all our efforts to be directed by God have to lead us to that point. They have to lead us to listen to the person of Jesus as best we can. So we’re back to that “How?” question. How does God direct US? How does he help us listen to him? Here are a few guideposts…
1) Is the choice I am feeling called to or directed toward coherent with the message we receive in Scriptures? If that is where Jesus learned to be faithful, by his own praying and reading and study of God’s word, so much so that he could quote it so easily in last weeks’ Gospel story of the temptations, then somehow I also need to use that as one of my touchstones. “God is telling me to kill my neighbor? Probably not, or at least not in the New Testament – so I can probably disregard that bit of direction. I feel this urge within me to volunteer time feeding the poor. Ah, now we’re talking something that is deeply rooted in our scriptures.
2) I listen for the “collective wisdom of the church.” What is our Holy Father talking about? What is on the Archbishop’s agenda (think: Alive in Christ and the Beyond Sunday Campaign to strengthen our schools) – do I trust that movement as the fruit of them being directed by the Holy Spirit? Practically speaking, I read America Magazine, produced by the Jesuits, to keep me current on that lively push and pull within the Catholic intellectual tradition. And a bit from the National Catholic Reporter on the left and the Wanderer on the right. And the Archbishop’s column in the St. Louis Review. And the occasional article from the Sunday Visitor. And I flip to the NCCB website about specific issues such as Immigration and Social Justice. Which is another way of saying – I don’t get my public policy thoughts from Keith Obermann on the one side and Rush Limbaugh on the other. There is a much richer dialogue going on within our Catholic roots and tradition that helps me to respond to Jesus’ voice
3) On the parish level, I just do my best to listen. Sometimes the ideas come from concerned school parents in an email. Other times it is a chance conversation at a fish fry, or after mass. The antenna is always up at any parish event/encounter – listening for that voice of God that directs me.
Abram went as God directed him. It is such a simple statement, with such profound implications. When I have done my listening and praying, and have made a decision, I draw comfort from the prayer of Thomas Merton.
My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.***
May you and I never do anything apart from that desire either…
*** – here is the rest of Thomas Merton’s prayer…
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone