I am a baptized Catholic who spent my teenage and young adult years running away from God with all my might.
Despite my best efforts, I could never quite get away. I had had too many experiences of the True, Good, and Beautiful as a child to be entirely deaf to them once I had grown. When I heard a piece of beautiful music or read a gorgeous story, I would catch an echo of God’s whisper to me. But I preferred, then, to call it “numinous,” a word borrowed from scientist Carl Sagan to describe a taste of the divine without a divinity.
Those hooks were enough to keep me lightly tethered to Catholicism. On the morning of 9/11, the first place I went was to locate my atheist boyfriend (now my Catholic husband). The second place I went was to church, somewhere I hadn’t been voluntarily in a half dozen years.
I didn’t know why, I just knew I needed it. Needed Him.
Whispers in the Dark
Over the next few years, these whispers kept arriving. As they were happening, the moments seemed inconsequential, even marginal.
When I married that atheist man, I assumed I was done with Catholicism for good. On our honeymoon in Mexico, though, our tour bus took an unscheduled detour from the Aztec pyramids to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and we passed under Our Lady’s mantle hand in hand. We laughed about what we referred to as our hijacking, but God (and Our Lady) whispered another seed of faith into our hearts that day.
When we entered graduate school, we enjoyed the company of a Mormon couple (and their adorable toddlers). They argued passionately in favor of a personal relationship with Jesus, for the reconciliation of faith and reason. We argued just as passionately against, for the sake of a good argument, but God whispered to us through their words. Insistent, patient.
Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and the Whisper
With the benefit of twenty years hindsight, it seems so obvious what God was doing in my twenty-something self. He was whispering to me, using every tool at His disposal, calling out to His lost sheep in the gentle, merciful voice that would not startle her. He worked within the context of a national tragedy. An unexpected detour. A very unlikely friendship.
Because of my childhood encounters with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, I was eventually (slowly!) able to recognize these providential signs for what they were. Or rather, I was unable to not recognize them. They reverberated with the mark of divine love I had already known, moving the strings of my soul to vibrate in sympathy and recognition… and longing.
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Tuning the Ears of Our Hearts
In the years since, God has continued whispering, in my most confusing moments and down twisty, uncertain paths. It is not necessarily any easier to hear Him within those moments than it was when I was twenty.
But I have seen now—I have decades of evidence—that those whispers lead somewhere, somewhere good. And that even if I don’t quite hear Him correctly, He will keep whispering until I course-correct. It is worth the risk to follow the whispers, even badly.
I tell you these stories for two reasons: to encourage you, and to give you hope.
1. Keep Listening… and Whispering
First: Whatever you are doing to introduce others to earthly, human fragments of God’s perfection, keep doing it.
Great books, music, art, and your own testimony can be just as important as liturgy and catechism in forming love and knowledge of God. In sharing them, you are introducing your family and community to the whispers, tuning the ears of their hearts to listen well and deeply. Let this be your encouragement to keep practicing your own listening, and to be a willing instrument for God when someone near you needs His whispering.
2. Keep Waiting
Second: They still may not listen.
And that, ultimately, is between them and God. All you can do is be a willing, whispering instrument; the results are not up to you. My poor parents probably despaired for my soul during my wilderness years, but I had to learn to recognize His whispers without their direct mediation. As do we all.
(Here’s the hope: by God’s grace, after an improbably long time, I did.)
It takes practice, and it takes failure, and it takes trying again. The results are by no means guaranteed.
But chasing God’s whisper is the story of our lives and our salvation, the most important thing we will ever learn to do.
Christy Wilkens, wife and mother of six, is an armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX. She writes about disability, faith, doubt, suffering, community, and good reads. Her first book, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored our Faith, a memoir about a Lourdes pilgrimage with her husband and son, will be released by Ave Maria Press in 2021. You can find out more about her here.