The historian Paul Johnson writes in his spiritual memoir about having once called the prime minister’s office and, instead of getting the secretary’s secretary, the prime minister herself answered. “It happened to me once with a prime minister,” Johnson writes. “But with God it happens all the time.”
I don’t know if Johnson’s experience is like mine, but from that day on, when I prayed, I almost always received a verbal response, often with quite specific guidance. At first, it just seemed an oddity that went too much against my agnostic worldview to be taken seriously. Once my son had classical music playing in his ear all the time. It turned out to be an ear infection, causing buzzing signals that the brain very skillfully translated into Mozart. Maybe my prayers were like that.
I would tell Abigail about these odd experiences. While I am cautious in my beliefs and skeptical by temperament, she is more spiritual and less distrustful. I had always been skeptical of paranormal reports, near death experiences, and the like, but she was not. I assumed she put the voice I heard in that category. I didn’t really know because, usually, she just took in what I told her and didn’t say much. She explained to me later that she thought I was engaged in a sensitive, fragile communication and did not want to create static. But, one day, she did speak up. “Are you going to take the voice seriously, or is this just entertainment?”
She had put her finger on the contradiction I was living. The voice was too real and spoke with too much authority to ignore. Yet I could not imagine actually acting on it. Well, actually I could and did act on it, but without quite taking it seriously. I would be told to do this or that. Sometimes the guidance was about some matter facing me that day, and following the guidance usually worked out well; other times I received directives that seemed quite arbitrary but, since they did no harm, I would follow them. For example, one morning, Abigail and I had just sat down to breakfast when I was told,
So I just sat there for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, until I was told I could eat now. I always did as I was told, but it was still more like a game of Captain-may-I than a life imperative. I was not ready to answer Abigail’s question.