Diane's Voice

When God Winks

 

Today is Ash Wednesday, and as a practicing Catholic it’s fitting my public blogging life should start here. Most people think of Ash Wednesday as a day of sacrifice and self-abnegation. Others, however, have taken it to mean stepping out in faith to do things we’re uncomfortable with, or scared of, or that stretch us beyond our comfort zone. Perhaps it means inviting someone to go to church with us, or speaking up to explain our beliefs to others. For me, it means writing my first post about God.

Today I’m particularly focused on the ways in which God communicates with us as we go about our daily lives. When I was younger, I thought God spoke to people in big ways—a burning bush, tongues of fire, blindingly bright angels. Absent those signs, I wondered if He was listening. One afternoon I was having a conversation about prayer with my friend Michael. I told him I prayed all the time, but wondered if I was just speaking into the void. He asked me what I did when I prayed.

Prayer Box“Well, I say my prayers, then I ask God to bless all the people I love; then I ask Him for things.”

“You’re doing a lot of talking,” Michael said.

“Praying is talking to God, right?”

“Yes. But what about listening?”

I flinched. “Like, hearing voices?”

“Not so much hearing voices, but paying attention to the little things. God is answering us all the time; we’re just so busy talking that we don’t hear his answer. The answers mostly come in the silence.”

My stomach clenched. I was never going to hear God, I thought, because I am terrible at silence. I lived my whole life in a house full of wonderful, vibrant, loud Italian New Yorkers. When I moved out of my parents’ home and into an apartment with my husband, when he had to work nights I would turn on every television in the apartment so every room would have a voice to keep me company. I was terrified of quiet.

How do I hear God’s “still small voice” when I am scared of silence?

I despaired thinking that to hear God I had to get comfortable with silence. It seemed impossible. A lot of days, it still is. Silence in our modern world is kind of hard to come by, and with one teenager, one almost-teenager, a husband, and three remarkably loud cats in my house, chances are that even if I wanted to find silence I probably couldn’t. But, as I said, I’m a practicing Catholic—I know I’m not very good at it, and need all the practice I can get—and sometimes in order to get better at something we have to start with what we know. As a writer, I know how to observe, and I’ve learned that sometimes, when God can’t be heard in the silence, as Squire Rushnell puts it, we see that “God winks.” 

God has, in no uncertain terms, recently winked at me. I have two daughters, and while I pray for lots of things in a given day, the bulk of my prayers are for them. As my eldest daughter, Bethany, started high school, I prayed for guidance to help her find her life’s path. Since Bethany was little, she loved to sing. She has taken singing lessons and worked to develop her lovely voice. She wants to continue developing her vocal talent, but she is trying to figure out if she can find a career that involves music without putting all her eggs in the very precarious preforming arts basket. While she may ultimately want to pursue a life in theater, she acknowledges she needs a backup plan.

I can’t imagine wanting to hear God more than when I’m worried about my children.

A friend of mine in Tallahassee recently posted an article from Florida State University about its music therapy program. It is making great strides using both music and medicine to promote development and recovery in premature babies, people with certain debilitating illnesses, and elderly patients with dementia. When my daughter heard about working with elderly patients, she gasped and said, “Mom. I think I want to look into that.” If you think that was God winking, wait. It gets better.

I started looking into program requirements and saw she would have to play an instrument. Fortunately, Beth’s vocal coach also teaches piano, so I sent her a quick text to see if Beth could start studying piano along with voice this summer. 

Not five minutes later, a friend of mine told me about a lady, Rusty, who was leaving her home to move in with her daughter. Rusty had a piano that had been a gift from her husband before he passed away, and it was so special to her that she wanted to sell it to a musically inclined family that would really love it. My friend wondered if we would be interested. 

Sometimes, God winks. Other times, He’s a little less subtle.

I know that writers often play with concepts of time and space in memoir to make a better story. I am not doing that here. This friend honestly spoke to me five minutesafter I sent that text. Is there something bigger than a wink, but not as large as a smack upside the head? Because I think God was doing that, and he wasn’t being quiet about it. 

I told my friend I had just contacted my daughter’s voice teacher about taking her on as a piano student. My friend immediately gave me Rusty’s contact information. Within a week I was in Rusty’s living room.

Piano

I looked at the piano, touched the keys to make sure it sounded about right, and checked for signs of termite damage. As I looked, I spoke with Rusty. She was kind and soft-spoken, and so sad to have to let this part of her life with her husband go. 

“He died over ten years ago,” she said, sitting in her recliner with her walker next to her. “I’ve been lucky to stay in my home as long as I have, but it’s becoming impossible. I know I need to move closer to my daughter, but it’s hard to leave all of this.” 

I nodded. No chapters of our lives are easy, but I have witnessed first hand that the ones where we have to let go are the hardest. I told her, “Most kids my daughter’s age like kids and babies, but Bethany loves talking to older people. She loves their stories. I think if she decides she wants to work with music and medicine, she’s going to want to focus on the elderly. This piano is going to help her explore that option.”

We all have chapters of our lives that involve letting go. One thing that makes it easier is preserving one another’s stories.

“I was a nurse,” Rusty replied, “and music really was important in giving people a reason to keep on living. It tethers them to a happier time. Memories are so important when we’re healing.” She gestured to the piano. “After we retired, my husband bought me that. I was taking lessons, and he had it delivered on Christmas Eve. I was so surprised. He would come into the living room at night after dinner and ask me to play something. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. I hope this piano brings you that kind of joy.”

“It will,” I said. “I also hope it can bring joy to all the people my daughter might help one day. This may be her calling, or it may not. But I do know that whatever happens in the future, it’s no coincidence that this happened right now.”

God works that way,” she said. “He comes to us in the little things.”  

I smiled. “Yes. God winks.”

Sometimes, the little thing is music.

I had the piano moved to my house on Monday. My daughter came home from school, opened it up—and what song did she play, first thing? “When the Saints Come Marching In.” Mardis Gras was a day away; Ash Wednesday was coming up; she had just gotten a piano in a move that was one of the biggest God winks I’d ever personally experienced . . . and she, completely innocently, chooses to play “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

Maybe, for all that I know God comes to us in the silence, for now, He’s knows he needs to wink at me through the sound of my daughter’s music. So this Lent I’m going to keep looking out for when he winks, and maybe I’ll even find some time to listen for him in the silence. 

Rosary
For those of you who participate in Lent in any way, I wish you a season of beauty and spiritual growth.

 

18 replies »

  1. Thank you. This is beautiful, and I will be sharing. Just came home from getting my ashes at church to find this post. As another practicing Catholic, I should have posted today, on Ash Wednesday or some religious theme–you are braver than I–but wrote today’s post yesterday. And, as it happens, it’s on voice–mostly the voice we writers read with. But, as I love to sing, I had to get that in there too. A good Ash Wednesday to you and your family, and a good Lent.

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  2. What a beautiful story!!! I recently, within the last year started studying music. My parents bought us a piano when my sister and I was younger. Long story short, they couldn’t afford the cost of the lessons. The piano 🎹 still sits in my family home living room. I had to resign from Nursing after 18 years due to illness and I didn’t know what to do with myself. My husband was in the garage looking for something else and found my very old Yamaha keyboard 🎹. I had tried to teach myself to play when I was still working…but just didn’t have the concentration or patience. I felt the tremendous stress of being a nurse and my creative side tanked…for 18 years!!! Now I’ve been teaching myself for 1 full year and I’m really enjoying with Alfred’s Comprehensive Adult Music books for self teaching. I believe that was a “Wink” as well! I’ve been striving since 2012 to develop a closer relationships with God, Our Savior Jesus and the Holy Spirit and this is very important to me. More
    important than organized religion, although, I am of the Baptist Faith and sometimes attend church. I will tell you, I don’t have to be at church to feel his presence and listening for his response or guidance is ongoing…but, I’ve had some tremendous breakthroughs and believe We have communicated…HE’s that whisper in my ear 👂🏾 or phrases that keep repeating in my head in the form of Bible Scripture or Dreams I have. I know longer have difficulties grasping these occurrences, as now I’m aware, they are from the Spiritual dimension and anything can happen there. I really enjoyed your God Talk and look forward to more of your blogs like this. It lifted my Spirits, it’s not easy to have conversations with people who haven’t yet experienced these events and have doubtful hearts ♥️. God Bless, Monique

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  3. God speaks to us through his word the Bible too bad most people think it’s just another piece of decor in their homes because most churches under value it and Don’t teach the importance of using it daily, as Jesus stated they make the word of God invalid because they have taught that their traditions are more important… We must hear God’s voice through his written word and not rely on what we think is correct, we are flawed and imperfect and don’t have the right to tell God how we want to worship him, as our maker and life giver he has the right to tell us how he wants to be worshipped… Just food for thought

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  4. It is so interesting that today at lunch, two of my close friends were telling me about the times that God spoke to them. One message from God saved a life or two, and the other message started a relationship that has changed lives. God does work in interesting and mysterious ways. Congratulations, my friend, on your post and taking this leap.

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  5. listen to the group P.O.D.,aka Payable On Death.
    A New Song is the song. ‘im not the type to say i told you so, the hardest part of holding on is letting it go’
    when will we sing a new song, a new song?

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  6. Thank you for your kind words. I’m 46. I’ve been a catechist for over ten years, and have had my own personal blog for maybe a little longer, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt ready to post about God. It just kind of came to me as something I had to do, and I expected some criticism, but I figured it would be worth it if it helped put me in contact with other supportive and kind folks like you. I have been studying a lot about the Holy Spirit yesterday, and I am convinced that the more we open ourselves up to Him the more we are I am going to head on over and read your blog as soon as I have time, and will say hi when I do.

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  7. Hi Diane,
    I was also Roman Catholic but moved to the Episcopal Church when the Catholic church became intolerable towards the LGBT community, yet the priest was molesting children. But, that is not the point here. The idea is prayer, how we pray, and most importantly how we interpret God’s responses. To this day, I still find it difficult to pray. I want my prayers to be meaningful. Yet, God knows our heart, and He knows our needs. I don’t remember where I heard it, but someone stated the best way to pray is to be silent and listen. God speaks to us, but not in this booming voice we think it should be, but thoughts within us that are relevant at the time. I love the expression “God winks.” It is very much applicable to my life recently. Thanks for sharing a beautiful post. HUGS

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  8. Hi Rebecca! Thank you so much for your kind words. I am 46 years old, have been a catechist for 15 years and have had a personal blog for longer than that, and never before posted about God or, really, my faith. It takes a lot of courage, I agree, but it also takes a lot of being in my now late 40’s. Around when my mom turned 50 I noticed she just didn’t shy away from saying stuff any more. So I think it’s partly my age that allows me to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. Mostly, I’m sure though, it’s the Holy Spirit. I’ve been doing some studying and writing about Him lately, and He honestly gives me the strength to say things I otherwise wouldn’t. I am so happy to hear about the piece you wrote on voice; I’ll send you a comment when I read it. Also–always keep singing! It helps in so many ways. I hope you also have a good Lent!

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  9. Hi Monique! Thank you for your response! It’s hard sending a blog post out into the void, waiting to see what will come back. Your comment was beautiful. I’m glad you are finding the time to pursue piano. I think we all get so bogged down in our 20’s – 40’s or 50’s with working, tending to family, paying bills, that we put our artistic pursuits to the side. There’s no better time than retirement to pick them up! I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic,” which talks about pursuing art for the sake of pursuing art, and the joy it can bring. I firmly believe it can bring healing, too, if not of the body then of the spirit (but maybe both). So keep on playing that piano! As for attending church, I think it’s important to have a faith community no matter what religion or denomination a person is. Especially among Christians, who have the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as an example of how even God wants to live in community, it’s especially important. It’s great to have a place to go to touch base, hear others’ views, and learn from those who have maybe studied scripture more than we have. Then, of course, it’s important to open ourselves up to God outside of that faith community to come to our own personal understandings. That’s the part I think I need to work at. As an extrovert, I’m all for the socializing and talking, and less for the silence and solitude. I’m glad my post lifted your spirits. I won’t always write about God, but if that’s something readers want to hear more about, I’ll certainly feel more comfortable stepping out in faith again sooner rather than later.

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  10. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It is always a pleasure to explore my faith, and that of others, more deeply. I completely agree that the Bible is, absolutely, the document contains all His wisdom. I also believe that at Pentecost He sent the Holy Spirit down upon the apostles to help guide us when things became confusing. I believe it was through the Spirit that the Gospels were written, and I believe God continues to guide us even now through the Holy Spirit. I think most Christian faiths do very much encourage daily reading of the Bible–whether the people do so or not is, of course, up to them. While I don’t attend daily mass, I do try to read the scriptural readings of the mass every day, and if I do so that means that I read the entire New Testament (as well as a great number of books of the Old Testament) in a three year cycle. Catholicism encourages us to read much more than that, of course, but that is pretty much the bare minimum we get if we are faithfully participating in mass every day.

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  11. Thank you so much my dear friend! I think the more we share our experiences, the more others feel inspired to share theirs and we realize “It’s not just me.” Stepping out in faith takes so much bravery because it makes us so vulnerable to criticism and rejection. I think that’s so hard to do, and it’s taken decades to make me realize that any level of rejection on the Internet would not amount to a millionth of what Christ felt. And thus, this post. Thank you, as always, for your kindness and support. Sending you so much love!

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  12. Thank you for the recommendation! I’m always looking for new music, obviously to fill the silence. It took me a few days to find the time to find and listen to the song, but on first listen I really like it. I think I’ll need a few replays to get the full feel of it, but it really does speak to what I’m writing here. I’ve always been drawn to the concepts of holding on/letting to, or keeping it together/letting go. I think it has a lot to do with control. Our society definitely advocates control, while my faith tells me to hand control over to God. It’s one of the ways the Christian faith is truly revolutionary and countercultural. Keep song recommendations coming! I love expanding my playlists!

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  13. Hi Chuck! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! As a lifetime Catholic, there is a whole lot about the Catholic Church that bothers me. The reason I stay is not for the institution of the church, but for my faith. Catholicism is one of only a few religions where I can, on a daily basis, become one with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe some denominations of the Episcopal Church believe that, as well. I choose to remain a Catholic because I’m not going to let the evil that has infiltrated a large part of the body of the church win by driving me from it. Yet I know everyone has to choose their battles. Lord knows I’ve walked away from enough of them, myself, and I would never judge or say anything negative to someone who chose to walk away from this one. Sometimes the corruption, hypocrisy, and, yes, evil seems insurmountable. Focusing on the pain that human institutions cause other humans is debilitating, to say the least. So, I choose to look with two sets of eyes–one set on the world, and one set on heaven. When my eyes are set on the world, I do things in the world (and in the church) to try to change the mess humanity has made. When my eyes are set on heaven, I pray, and praise, and thank God for this beautiful creation in which I have been allowed to dwell for a short time. As far as prayer, I think we all find it very difficult to pray, sometimes.A priest once said that those dry times in prayer life is like walking through the desert. It’s those 40 days and 40 nights of plodding through, hoping things get easier. It helps me, though, to think of God as a Father, and look at the way my husband treats our children. If my husband, after a long and exhausting day, can sit and listen to my children babble on about pretty much anything from My Little Ponies (when they were younger) to the latest nonsense on the Internet, how much more of our “not-meaningful” words will God be willing to listen to? God is certainly infinitely more loving, accepting, kind, and tolerant than any human being (even if my husband is a really good one), so if my husband can not only be patient but find joy and laughter in my kids’ stories, how much more will God find joy in listening to us? God wants to be in a relationship with each and every one of us. We are His children. We can’t comprehend how much patience He has for us. All He wants us to do is take one genuine step to Him in faith, and He will run the rest of the miles that separate us–and He will come to us in the silence, or in music, or in those little winks. Faith is a journey. Thank you for letting me walk with you in yours for a little while. You are always welcome to walk with me on mine. That’s why I love the words of Rumi, who says that essentially, “We’re just walking each other home.”

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  14. This smacks of piety and privilege. It’s the same narrative I’ve heard before, a happy ending from God, who’s just sitting around waiting to provide something—a football victory, a Cinderella ending, a used piano. Even the surrealists like Andre Breton toyed with the idea of supernatural provision, though Breton didn’t attribute the provision to God, but rather to desire and an imagination that makes the world when the world is politically stable, capitalistic, and saturated with commodities. In other words: what we want, we can find. If someone’s giving it away free, even better! America is not only saturated with commodities, it’s saturated with commodities people no longer want, for a variety of reasons: death, downsizing, obsolescence, duplication, to make room for more or new commodities. At least when the Puritans contemplated provision, or Divine Providence, they recognized the arbitrariness of it.

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  15. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on the post. I am always in search of new perspectives, and your comment has given me a great deal to think about. While I can see your interpretation that this post was about the acquisition of material things, and while acknowledging that authorial intent is not something that must matter to readers, my point in writing this was less about “Hey, I got a piano!” and more about my concerns and fears about my child’s future and the way in which I see God telling me to chill, because He’s got this. I in no way believe God sent me a piano. I don’t think He works that way. I think He moves people to goodness, to paying attention to the needs of others, and to finding some form of joy in their losses and sacrifices. That’s what I was seeing here. I can see, however, how it could be interpreted as privileged, materialistic, capitalistic, and pious. It’s certainly not an uncommon interpretation. I am absolutely privileged. I have things, probably more than I need or want, largely because I do live in a capitalistic society and it’s hard, though not impossible, to resist the constant message of “buy this and it will make you happy.” As for being pious, piety is a virtue in my faith, so while I know it was meant as a negative, I will claim that, as well. However, thinking about the crux of your comment, of God as the provider of happy endings, I realize I claim that with unabashed joy. Ultimately, as a Catholic, I do believe that God is the provider of the happiest of all endings–eternal life in heaven. Yet I also believe the material trappings of this world are not at all His concern. They are ours, and when we freely give and receive from one another, we are responding to His commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s what I saw here. If within that you see negatives, I completely understand, and I thank you again for your honest interpretation.

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  16. I appreciate your response. The Bible is a sacred symbolic text that benefits us by providing a moral code and the life of Jesus as a model, including caring about children. I appreciate your love and hopes for your daughter.

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