Divinity detectives listen for the soul

September 29, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 19
By Melissa Miller |

These are golden days on the Prairies as summer melds into autumn. Everywhere the eye gazes, it touches on gold. Fields of grain, cut or standing, are pale gold. The dust of harvest glows rose-golden in the sun’s rays. The yellow-gold of changing leaves adds another hue. And in the ditches, yellow flowers contrast brightly with the dull gold grasses.

At such a golden feast, we are drawn to the beauty of creation and the work of the Creator. On beautiful days, it is easy to be a “detective of divinity,” as we are surrounded by God’s abundant gifts in nature. “Detectives of divinity” was a phrase used by Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary professor David Miller at a workshop he led at the Mennonite Church Canada assembly this past summer. He urged us to be like detectives, alert and curious about God’s activity in the world. Once we’ve detected God-at-work, he added, we join in, partnering with God. According to Miller, that’s what it means to be missional.

“Listening for the soul” is another way to describe our partnership in God’s work. That’s the one used by United Church minister Jean Stairs in her book Listening for the Soul: Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction. She says that listening for the soul means “being aware and open to the wondrous spirit of God and hearing the ways God invites and reveals on all levels of our being.” Stairs states that our listening is not to make God present. Rather, “we open our ears as a way of responding to the presence of God, who is already and always present in our lives.”

In particular, she notes how God is at work in the lives of children. She reminds us that the nurture of children’s faith must include an awareness of how God is present in them; we have much to learn of God and God’s grace through children.

Like the Sunday school teacher who delighted in one student’s answer to her question, “What do you think God looked like when God was making the world?” The child promptly answered, “Like a fairy godmother!” Fairy godmother isn’t the first thing I think of to describe God, but a child’s imagination certainly opens up new possibilities of glimpsing God’s playful, mysterious self.

How are we listening for the soul in our lives and in the lives of those around us? How are we detecting the divine presence in our midst? How might we tune our ears to such listening, and focus our eyes more keenly to see God’s activity among us? Beautiful scenes in nature are one way we see God. How about the beauty that enfolds in human relationships, especially in difficult times?

Perhaps we’ve detected the divine at the bedside of a loved one who is dying. Maybe we are witnesses to an injured friend extending an olive branch in a gesture of peace. Maybe it’s hearing the voice of a victim of abuse naming the harm that has been done and crying out for justice. Or sometimes it occurs when a marriage has ended, and former spouses are able to forgive each other and find release from the hurts of the past.

God’s presence among us is like “treasure in clay jars” (II Corinthians 4:7a). We are privileged to be eager detectives of divinity and keen listeners for the soul. Let’s grab our magnifying glasses, adjust our hearing aids and go treasure-hunting!

Melissa Miller (familyties@mts.net) lives in Winnipeg, where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.

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