When William, was a toddler, he distinguished between his two grandfathers, calling one, “Pop”, and the other “Papa Horse”. The first grandfather is still active in William’s life, a kind man, full of integrity, eager to share the things he knows with his grandsons. The second, who also delighted in his rambunctious grandsons (there were no granddaughters at the time), is fading into pleasant memory.
When the little boys were able to sit up and take notice, Jon would carry them out to the barn and plop them, bareback onto Rufus and Frolic. It was high adventure for them all, but it was especially delightful to William, who lived too far away to see us frequently. Those barn interludes eventually caused him to refer to “Papa Horse” in everyday conversation, hoping that his parents would humor his equine yearnings and take to the road. But even before the words were present, his desires existed, and William let us know about them in a language of his own. In the early days, we struggled to interpret his cries of frustration, feeling helpless to identify the problems. But Jon could take William to the barn and set him on a horse, and magically, William’s face would break out in delighted smiles. “Papa Horse” had figured something out. Instinctively, he’d learned to listen to his grandson.
Listening can be hard. I remember a biology course I took in college, where the teacher’s great idea was to furnish all the students with casette tape recorders in lab. In this way, he dictated each step of the rat dissection for us without actually being there. Jon thrived on it, while I, frustrated at being tutored by a faceless voice, loathed it. I struggled all through the course, and ended up turning off the stupid tape recorder, and doing the dissections by looking at the pictures. It was a situation where I failed to learn to listen.
But as I’ve gotten older and slower, I’ve begun to listen better. Last spring, I decided to learn some bird songs, wanting to know what bird was singing, just out of sight. I bought a game called “Larkwire” and began actively listening. It was hard for me, and I undoubtedly required many more repetitions to learn each call, than my auditorily gifted family members. I learned the “chick-a-dee dee dee” call of the black capped chickadee, and the liquid, musical notes of the wood thrush. Early in the mornings, I heard the pileated woodpecker taunting me from deep within the woods, and recognized its call as one of the “jungle sounds” often heard in movies. It was a wonderful, energizing thing to comprehend a new language. Even a little knowledge made me feel more alive.
Birds and babies speak a different language from me, and I have to listen hard to understand them- but I am motivated. With babies, the need is obvious- they keep on screaming until I get a clue. And bird language? It’s not necessary that I learn it, but it’s fun. So why is it that listening to God is so hard? If I can slow down long enough to listen to screaming infants and random bird calls, why do I consider listening to what the Creator has to say as burdensome and complicated? Scripture proclaims His messages over and over and creation shouts to me. Although He has condescended to speak, I hide from a tete-a-tete on the basis that He is too far away or that He is incomprehensible. The difficulty, in this case, lies not in translation, but in desire, and the results of handling things without His input can get ugly. I tend to be judgemental, rash and superficial. I let unimportant worries waste valuable time. I concentrate on urgent trivia and forget people. If I would just listen to God, I could avoid making so many messes.
Too often, my cynical spirit says that God isn’t speaking to me. I wonder whether I’ve really taken the time to hear?
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73: 25-28