If We Knew How to Listen to God

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

“If we knew how to listen to God, we would hear him

speaking to us. For God does speak. He speaks in his Gospels. He also speaks through life – that new gospel to which we ourselves add a page each day.”

When I was in the minor seminary in the 1960s, my spiritual director gave me a neat little book called “Prayers,” written by French priest and theologian Michel Quoist. The quote listed above is taken from this well-known book which I’ve had on my bookshelf for well over fifty years now.

“Prayers” is a collection of prayers (of course) and reflections about finding God in the people, places, events and objects of everyday life. The book is simple, yet clever. It was hugely popular in its day and it fit in quite nicely with the rather horizontal theology of the 1960s.

A few examples will illustrate Quoist’s approach . . .

On green blackboards: “The school is up-to-date. The finest discovery, Lord, is the green blackboards. We now know that green is the ideal color, that it doesn’t tire the eyes, that it is quieting and relaxing . . . It has occurred to me Lord, that you didn’t wait so long to paint the trees and meadows green. And so the ‘finds’ of men consist in discovering what you have thought from time immemorial.”

On the brick: “The bricklayer laid a brick on the bed of cement. Then, with a precise stroke of his trowel, spread another layer of bricks . . . I thought, Lord, of that poor brick buried in the darkness at the base of the big building. No one sees it, but it accomplishes its task, and the other bricks need it. Lord, what difference whether I am on the rooftop or in the foundations of your building, as long as I stand faithfully at the right place?”

And on the book goes with reflections about mundane things like the telephone, the baby, the subway, the door, the twenty-dollar bill, the bald head. There are more serious meditations as well, including Quoist’s presentation of “The Way of the Cross.”

One of my favorites is the poignant “The Priest: A Prayer on Sunday Night,” a thoughtful reflection about the occasional solitude, even loneliness that a priest encounters. After a very busy Sunday, filled with activities and surrounded by people, the priest offers this cri de coeur: “Tonight, Lord, I am alone. Little by little the sounds died down in the church. The people went away. And I came home. Alone . . . Lord, I’m thirty-five years old, a body made like others, arms ready for work, a heart meant for love, but I’ve given you all.”

As I write this and you read it, we find ourselves between the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday; that is between Christmas and Easter. This is “Ordinary Time” in the life of the Church, a time when we prescind from the great mysteries of our Faith and reflect upon the daily ministry of our Lord Jesus.

It’s also an opportunity for us to imitate the approach of Michel Quoist and try to find God in the “ordinary” events of everyday life. If we’re attentive, if we approach everything through the eyes and ears of faith, perhaps we too can find God in the people and events that come our way.

For example, could you find God and fashion a prayer from . . .

An excellent dinner in a fine restaurant: “Dear God, thank you for the wonderful food and friendship I’ve enjoyed tonight. Please don’t ever let me take my blessings for granted, and help me to remember those who go without, those who are hungry and lonely.”

Your computer crashing: “O Lord, we’ve become too dependent on man-made gadgets and electronics haven’t we? This failure of technology reminds me that you are the ultimate source of wisdom and knowledge. Teach me to depend more on you, Lord, and not so much on science and technology.”

A major snowstorm: “Dear God, the blizzard has forced us inside and has cancelled all of our plans. The roads are closed and the state is gridlocked. Maybe, Lord, this is your way of making me slow down, relax, and spend some time at home getting reacquainted with my family. Thank you for this unexpected free day.”

An obnoxious co-worker: “Why, dear God, do you permit this guy to be so arrogant and irritating? But just maybe he’s struggling with some awful personal problems I’m not aware of – with his health, his marriage, or his children. Help me Lord, to be patient and charitable to all those with whom I live and work. And when I’m tempted to criticize the faults of others, remind me to look in the mirror.”

The examples I’ve crafted are poor imitations of what Michel Quoist wrote. The point is, though, that you too can reflect upon your own daily experiences, find God there, and pray about it. Or as Michel suggested, “to write your own gospel adding a new page each day.”

As a result of the Incarnation, and God humbling himself to enter our daily lives, we can find God just about anywhere, anytime. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”