Recently I had the blessing to attend a family retreat at Malvern Retreat House. It’s a beautiful place in deep woods, strong with the healing smell of forest. Along with many old and new friends, my wife, our four little kids and I took some time to pay attention to one another and to God’s voice.
Listening to the Lord through the clamor of our infant and toddler sons and two little girls is like prayer in the way I assume a monk might weave through a martial arts obstacle course in a Shaolin temple. In his wisdom and humor, the Lord sometimes calls us to retreat to him, while caring for, disciplining and playing with tiny humans. We are told in the Gospel to act like these kids in order to enter the kingdom of God.
I did my best to listen. It’s interesting to see the ways God reaches out to us, with so many voices screaming out for attention. He speaks through them, though — through the love of our family, our friends and, if we seek it out, through Scripture. Just after I got the kids to bed, and my wife was nursing our baby, and I stepped out and came across an open Bible on a table in the lobby. Curious, I read the passage, which turned out to be Isaiah 58:6-9, one of those compelling Scriptures that can hit you right in the heart:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!”
This is one of those Old Testament passages with a stark corollary in the New Testament. It’s the Beatitudes, but in Isaiah. I find the Lord’s promise to say “Here I am” particularly awesome, in the truest sense of the word.
How can we act with the constant memory that God is here? How can we gain the faith to know that when we call, someone answers?
Experiencing that love from others is a start. In community and in family, we feel the love of God. The Lord is here for us in and through our friends, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives.
God is here for us in silence and in the Eucharist, whispering in our hearts.
God is here for us too in the unexpected, the inconvenient and the surprising ways that he reveals himself. The retreat taught me was to always be ready for him.
As a person who has made plenty of knucklehead decisions, sometimes I just assume that the message God wants me to hear is probably something other than what happens to be on my heart. But this passage, which has always been a burning call to my heart, was a reminder that God can speak to us through our passions. It was a reminder that these passions are part of a divine dialogue. They are God’s call to us. God beckons us to answer, in conversation, gratitude, praise and thanksgiving. This conversation is like a beautiful song God plays for us, and he calls us sincerely to play along.
Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at email@example.com. More information about Martha’s Choice, a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.
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