“Listen to Me–even when I whisper.”

I began to take the prayers more seriously and started writing some of them down. Sometimes the voice would speak to me even when I was not praying. One day I was driving to New York, running behind schedule. Along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, I kept hearing a faint sound, not much more than a gnat in the ear, and I kept trying to “brush it away.” But it was persistent, and so I finally paid attention. It was the voice telling me to pull over and pray. I don’t remember the rest of what I was told, but the first words I have always remembered,

Listen to Me—even when I whisper.

I have tried to do that ever since but it is not always easy.

“Are you going to take the voice seriously?”

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 his brain skillfully translated into Mozart. Maybe my prayers were like that.

I would tell Abigail about these odd experiences. While I always disdained paranormal reports, near death experiences, and the like, she did not. I assumed she put the voice 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 communication and did not want to create static.

Then, 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 benign and authoritative to ignore. Yet I could not imagine acting on it. Well, actually I could and did act on it, but without 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 pretty well. Other times I received arbitrary directives which, since harmless, I followed. For example, one morning, Abigail and I had just sat down to breakfast when I was told,

Don’t eat.

So I just sat there for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.

You can 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.

On a visit to Boulder, where I used to teach, I told a former colleague about my experiences. I was afraid he would think, “poor Jerry, he has gone daft.” But he listened with interest, and recommended that I read American philosopher William James’s classic essay, “The Will to Believe.” An influential British scientist had declared, as a principle of the ethics of belief, “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for every one, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” The scientist had religion in his crosshairs.

James responded that there are some beliefs that, if you accept them, will shape your whole life. And shape it in a different way if you do not. You cannot remain neutral; yet evidence is inconclusive either way. You just have to decide which belief you would rather live with.

My situation seemed to be exactly what James was describing. Facing a similar choice between belief and unbelief, the seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal, had seen it as a wager. If I believe in God and am wrong, well, I’m dead anyway, so I haven’t lost much. But if I don’t believe in God, and there is one … well, you might say, there’s hell to pay.

I faced my own wager. Either I follow the voice or I don’t. If I follow the voice and it is not divine, what is the worst that can happen? Well, I would be a fool, maybe a laughingstock, and would say goodbye to an excellent career. But, if I decide not to follow the voice and it is divine, then I would have missed my purpose in this life. What if Moses had done that? Or George Fox, the founder of the Quakers? The Old Testament is full of people called by God, who at first demur and only reluctantly heed the call. Even Moses worries (“suppose they do not believe me”) and feels inadequate to the task (“I have never been eloquent … I am slow of speech and slow of tongue”).

I am not comparing myself to these great religious leaders, but all of us in our lives face moments when we have to decide whether to respond to a certain call—be it the call of duty or service or simply, as Joseph Campbell puts it, to “follow your bliss”—rather than continue a more conventional or comfortable course. If I had to live with one worst-case scenario or the other, I could live with being a fool, if that’s what it came to, but I could not live with having refused God’s call.

Making a decision to believe is not quite the same as accepting that belief in your bones. It is more like the first step toward believing. My philosophy still had no place for God—especially for a God who talks to me. Outside the Bible, who talks to God?

Another notable book by William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, helped answer this question. The founder of pragmatism, the only distinctively American school of philosophy, James also taught physiology and psychology. He was a man of science but, for him, empiricism did not mean restricting our understanding to what science registers. He looked without prejudice at all kinds of human experience. He talks about famous people such as George Fox as well as ordinary people who have received answers to prayer or psychic intuitions or visitations from recently-departed family members.

Many people have had moments of divine or non-natural awareness, probably more than feel comfortable talking about them publicly. Duke English professor Reynolds Price writes about his own battle with cancer. During the course of his treatment, he had an encounter with Jesus in a vision or, as it seemed to him, in another dimension. After he published his story, he received letters from many people with similar experiences—experiences that they had never told anyone. My experience was not as out-of-line as I had thought.
I decided to follow the voice and see where it would lead me.

“Ego is destructive, separatist, defiant”

An ego rush always broke my connection with God.

So I tried to keep a cold watch on this ego of mine.

When I was still in Washington, D.C., a matter came up about which I needed the assistance of an eminent intellectual with whom I had a limited acquaintance. He was completely forthcoming, and I felt flattered by his response.

“Lord, how should I take this? Is it wrong for me to feel flattered?”

No, it is not. This is joy, the joy of being yourself, which is proper to (appropriate for) human beings. I want you to be happy, to feel the fullness of your own being, its bounty. I blessed you with certain gifts. Of course, you recognize them as gifts, as benefits, as talents. That is okay. It is not the same as ego.

Ego is destructive, separatist, defiant of My will, self-satisfied and self-lustful. A proper appreciation of yourself opens your heart, binds you to Me, to those you love. Remember that I love you—I love all human beings—without reservation. Ideally, you would love yourself as I love you, as I loved Jesus. But that is not normally possible for human beings, because there are many obstacles.

“But it is possible for a few?”

For some, yes. I have blessed them with the ability to transcend those limitations. They can love themselves fully, and this permits them to love others.

One week I testified before a U.S. Senate committee. It did not go well and my ego limped out of the hearing room.

Get your ego out of it. Stand back and look (at it) at a distance.

“A ‘God’s-eye’ view?”

No, just objectively, as if it were someone else.

That helped. If it were someone else, I would know that, even on a good day, a Senate hearing is unpredictable. But there was still an ego wound.

“Lord, what can I do about that?”

Look, you are encased in a body and a personality, and it requires ego strength and self-respect. When I say, “Get the ego out,” I mean the second-order attachment to ego. The ego, like desires, is a fact, a necessary fact. Like the body, it gets bruised. You just nurture it and let it heal. Don’t deny it but don’t dwell on it either. Accept it and don’t attach it to blame. That your ego has been embarrassed is not the same as “doing something wrong.” Don’t blame yourself. That is an example of the wrong kind of attachment.

“Then I should just say, ‘I wish it had gone better,’ and leave it at that?”

Correct.

“Do you think I could come to the ancient Jews in the same way I came to the seventh century Chinese? to Americans today?”

I had been told that culture is a factor in divine revelations.

“Lord, why is culture so important?”

That’s like saying, why language?  If I am going to communicate with people, they need a language.  For the same reason, they need a culture.

“They need a culture, but why such a variety of cultures?”

There are many ways of realizing (actualizing) the human story.  Culture enables lives of different (types of) significance (meaning).

“But why, in terms of Your story?”

I need to come to people in all their particularity, not to mankind-as-such.  The Chinese is one way of being.  The primitive is one way of being.  I come to each in its own terms.  Each enables Me to show a different side of Myself.

Do you think I could come to the ancient Jews in the same way I came to the seventh century Chinese? to Americans today? to you?

Ask Yourself What I Am Looking For

 

 

 

 

Ask yourself what I am looking for.

One day I learned more about God’s story when I asked simply, “Where should I begin today, Lord?”

Ask yourself what I am looking for.

“Love?”

Well, yes, but what is that love?

“Interaction, communication, understanding?”

YesI long to be recognized, to be understood, and then to be taken in.

I wondered why a great being like God would need to be loved by mere mortals.  “Why does that matter to You, Lord?  You’ve got it all, just being God.”

That is silly.  This is what I am.  I am like a function looking for a variable.  I am only half the equation.

I looked for a humbler analogy.  “Like cement looking for bricks to hold together?”

Okay.

“Is that connection only what You need or is it also what the world needs?”

Both, obviously.  In your analogy, the world is like the bricks that need to be held together.

“But, Lord, I sense that Your yearning is not just a factual incompleteness, like needing a pair of gloves.”

Yes, it is a deep internal dynamic that drives Me forward to do the things I do.  I unfurl the world and call forth life and send signals to people.  Listen, and feel.

“The feeling that comes to me is Your desire to call into being a corresponding being.  It seems a lot like the dialectic of self and other in Hegel.  Subjectivity desires to objectify itself, as it does in artifacts, and to subjectivize the surrounding world, as it does in interpretation, and, even higher, to encounter another subjectivity.”

I am a Person, searching for …

“That’s what I wonder, Lord.  I can’t quite imagine what You are searching for.  Just interaction?  That seems too limited and, in a sense, too easy.”

It is not just looking for company.  Perhaps speaking of loneliness is misleading.  Why does a human being look for love?  It is not just for company.  That is companionship, not love.  You want to pour yourself, your concern, your destiny into another person.  And you want them to respond in kind, to understand and recognize and sympathize with and care about you, (and) to share your life story, so that I becomes we.  And the result is not just good feelings or good times; it is ontological, it is virtually molecular.  You know that, because you have experienced it.  Imagine how puny your love is (not to belittle it, but just for comparison) compared to Mine.  What is barely ontological or molecular in your case is fully so in Mine.  The constitution of the universe is altered by My love and My being loved.  You can’t just say “God so loved the world …”  Love is a two-way street.  Anything unilateral is merely an effort at love, not its fulfillment, not its achievement.

You could tell My story, one version of it at least, through the history of love.  What has love meant and been over time?  From Abraham’s love for his wife and his son and his God, through the Ramayana and the compassionate Buddha and Jesus and Plato’s philosophy as eros toward wisdom, to Christian chivalry and Buber’s I-Thou—these are stages that reflect My development and My interaction with human beings. 

“God is, in some sense, all. And all is very multiplex indeed.”

I had been told that God comes different ways to different cultures.

“So any single conception of God will grasp only one of Your aspects?”

Yes, you see the problem.  My nature is quite variegated.  People see one aspect and not another. 

“Lord, are there multiple levels of Being or something along those lines?”

Yes, but don’t interrupt.  The story is much more complex.  God is not mind or matter, or even mind and matter.  God is, in some sense, all.  And all is very multiplex indeed.  Even physics has not been able to produce a universe of “atoms in the void.”  There are forces, elements, patterns – you need to know more to go on – that go beyond them.  Then add the kind of stuff the morphic fields’ guy talks about …

Rupert Sheldrake, author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, performs scientifically controlled experiments to test different explanations of the uncanny ability of some animals to know what is happening far away.  He found, for example, that even if the owner came home at randomized times, the dog was always waiting expectantly about a half hour in advance.  He found that the dog responded as soon as the owner formed the intention to return home.

Sheldrake compares the results of these experiments to studies of how birds and other animals can find their way home.  Since standard explanations fail, he advances the idea that these communications travel by way of morphic fields, using an analogy with gravitational and magnetic fields to explain the “action at a distance” that is a feature of these situations.

… and those who talk about organized information and the like – primitive though they may be – and you begin to get an inkling.

I found that organized information and complexity are increasingly important concepts, particularly in biology, but also in cosmology and the social sciences.  Traditional science is reductionist, always trying to explain the whole from the action of the parts.  It is also deterministic, seeing one state of affairs as fully predictable from the previous state.  It was widely assumed that this model, which has been particularly successful in chemistry and mechanics, could be used to explain all natural phenomena.

The new theories of organization, information, and complexity challenge this assumption.  The whole—whether a cell, an organism, an ecology, or a universe—has some qualities that the parts do not have and cannot explain.  New phenomena, such as life and consciousness, are emergent properties that cannot be understood in terms of inorganic elements.  In some cases, such as why the organs of the body have the size and location that they have, the whole can explain the parts better than the other way around.  The self-organization of complex systems, their creative responses to their environment, and their emergent qualities are neither fully predictable nor fully explainable by their constituent elements or prior states.  I had been told that God is all, and that all is very multiplex indeed.  These concepts could provide the basis for understanding this multiplexity.

“It’s a mistake to try to control God . . .”

My first impressions of the ancient Egyptians were formed in Sunday School, put to music by gospels such as “Go Down Moses,” and brought to the silver screen by Cecil B. DeMille.  It was not a pretty picture—false gods, harsh rulers, fake magicians, and slave-drivers wielding the lash.  Egypt was on the wrong side of everything.

But now I was told that God was sending divine messages to every culture.  So I had to look at the land of the pharaohs through different eyes, Egyptian eyes.

Written in hieroglyphs that were already old when Sumerian cuneiform was young, the Pyramid texts date back almost five thousand years.  Chiseled into the walls of the dark corridors beneath these monumental tombs, these texts provide the deceased Pharaoh with the keys to a successful afterlife:  how to overcome each obstacle on the way to the divine realm and what words to speak to the guardians who block the way.  One strategy was to enter the cyclical course of the cosmos and accompany the sun god in the barque that transverses the sky each day.  The deceased king went so far, according to one inscription, as to kick the sun god overboard to make room for himself in the divine barque.

The complex mythology of the Egyptians far surpassed the simple piety of preliterate polytheism.  But, however complex, these greedy efforts to compel or trick the divine powers seem spiritually retrograde compared to the sensitive cave paintings and the humble peasant honoring a stream with a pile of stones.

“Isn’t that right, Lord?”

Yes, it is a fundamental mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around.  Do not exaggerate it.  It is no different from (no worse than) trying to bribe the king’s mistress or learn the password that goes you through the palace gates, but it is not high spirituality, and in fact is not really a kind of spirituality at all.

“It is a mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around.”

My first impressions of the ancient Egyptians were formed in Sunday School, put to music by gospels such as “Go Down Moses,” and brought to the silver screen by Cecil B. DeMille.  It was not a pretty picture—false gods, harsh rulers, fake magicians, and slave-drivers wielding the lash.  Egypt was on the wrong side of everything.

But now I was told that God was sending divine messages to every culture.  So I had to look at the land of the pharaohs through different eyes, Egyptian eyes.

Written in hieroglyphs that were already old when Sumerian cuneiform was young, the Pyramid texts date back almost five thousand years.  Chiseled into the walls of the dark corridors beneath these monumental tombs, these texts provide the deceased Pharaoh with the keys to a successful afterlife:  how to overcome each obstacle on the way to the divine realm and what words to speak to the guardians who block the way.  One strategy was to enter the cyclical course of the cosmos and accompany the sun god in the barque that transverses the sky each day.  The deceased king went so far, according to one inscription, as to kick the sun god overboard to make room for himself in the divine barque.

The complex mythology of the Egyptians far surpassed the simple piety of preliterate polytheism.  But, however complex, these greedy efforts to compel or trick the divine powers seem spiritually retrograde compared to the sensitive cave paintings and the humble peasant honoring a stream with a pile of stones.

“Isn’t that right, Lord?”

Yes, it is a fundamental mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around.  Do not exaggerate it.  It is no different from (no worse than) trying to bribe the king’s mistress or learn the password that goes you through the palace gates, but it is not high spirituality, and in fact is not really a kind of spirituality at all.

“Beauty also becomes possible . . .”

Beauty also becomes possible, as you see in prehistoric cave paintings.  Creatures from a very low level enjoy and appreciate sensory stimulation.  In that sense they find a scene (though not quite a “scene” for them yet) “beautiful.”  But true appreciation of beauty is seeing an ideal form in something material.  What they are drawing on cave walls are ideal bulls.

“I have seen those drawings.  They are amazing.”

Study the cave paintings and other artifacts.  They respond to, reflect, how I was presenting Myself to them.  You will be able to see or infer what My experience was like, what I was trying to do.