The God who Calls
I love the story of God calling Samuel. The first time I heard that story, I knew that it was true whether it really happened or not. Samuel, a young boy, is spending time in the home of his mentor Eli. Eli is old and his eyes are not good and so as Samuel hears a voice calling out in the night, Samuel figures that the old man is in need of his help. So Samuel climbs out of bed and runs over to Eli and says, “I am here for you called me.” But Eli stirs and looks at him in groggy confusion and says, “Samuel, go back to bed. I didn’t call you.” The process happens two more times and on the third time, Eli’s life experience kicks in and he realizes that God is calling out to Samuel. And so he tells the boy to go to bed but this time to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Listening for God’s voice is a tricky thing. We post-modern people tend to rely far more on our smart phones for life’s answers than the still small voices of the divine (I am still convinced that just about anything can be learned from a good Google search). And we think that if God is calling to anyone it is to, “religious professionals,” but that everyone else is simply on their own.
But call is a central part of scripture, a fundamental concept for Christians and Jews. The idea that God not only created the world and is involved in human affairs, but calls to ordinary everyday people, even ten year old boys sleeping on the floor in the temple, to do God’s work. And that God calls to us not just once or twice but all our lives no matter where we are or what we are doing- at work, at play, where we live, where we love, and where we go to school. And what’s more is that God’s call is not to a set of beliefs but simply a willingness to listen and to respond. “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
This past Monday, the women’s group Conversations Uncorked, spent their gathering time learning and practicing the spiritual disciplines of journaling and meditation. Paying attention to our inner voices through writing is one way to listen for God’s call; to listen for where God is speaking into difficult situations where we feel lost, or reminding us of our blessings, or where God is summoning us to a larger purpose.
In an editorial for the NY Times that he wrote several years ago (August 2, 2010), “The Summoned Self,” David Brooks, cited a commencement address by distinguished Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christenson. Christenson told the graduates that when he was a student at Oxford, he decided to spend an hour a day reading, thinking, and praying about why God had put him on the earth. It was hard and took a tremendous amount of discipline, but he stuck with it and ultimately figured out the purpose of his life at age 23. Admirable but it is likely a bit more than most of us are ready to sign up for.
In his article Brooks offered an alternative that sounded pretty biblical to me: the summoned life. “Life isn’t a project to be completed; it’s a landscape to be explored.” You must be able to respond to life situations as they come, asking “What is this situation summoning me to do?”
It is a different approach from thinking that we have it all figured out or that God is going to come to us in a thunderclap or send us an email with instructions for our life’s work. It is a summons to a journey in which we listen and respond to God’s call every day our whole lives long.