THIS beautifully written and easy-to-read book asks profound questions about God and of the reader.
The first part of the book describes the author’s journeys to India and Jordan, and across Britain, to ask some remarkable people, including Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, whether some higher power had communicated directly with them. Not all of those interviewed would call it “the voice of God.”
A Tibetan monk whom he met in Dharamsala spoke of the ancient tradition that a holy person could become a medium through whom an oracle could speak, and that bodhisattvas could speak to devotees. A Sri Lankan spoke of an “inner voice”. Yet, everyone Graham Turner interviewed, as Rowan Williams says in his foreword, had “developed habits of silence and attention” by which they had been changed and enabled to make a change for the better in the world.
They all said that “the life-changing voice” was unexpected and uninvited. It required complete honesty and was a call to dedicated service. For example, Jayashree, who ran an Initiative for Change (Moral Rearmament) Centre in India, suddenly was filled with shame when she remembered bargaining with a vegetable seller to save five rupees, although she was not short of money. She realised she knew nothing about the poverty of the Indian villages near by, and soon arranged courses at the centre for women to learn new skills and, by earning money, gain self-respect and the respect of their husbands.
Those who obeyed the voice then become aware of guidance in their daily lives. An Indian doctor spoke of “arresting thoughts or sparks”. Indeed, the night before he met Turner, he had saved a dying patient, thanks to “an unexpected thought”.
In the second part, Turner speaks of his own experiences. He had joined a friend for coffee. Suddenly, the friend asked him, “Would you like to listen to God?” and gave him a blank sheet of paper to write down what he heard. Later, he came to see that his marriage and his life’s works were the result of God’s intervention — and even when he thought that his daughter was dying, his trust in God was unshaken.
Discovering that “the voice” is heard by people of many faiths, Turner asks, first, how religions relate to each other. The Tibetan Buddhist replied: “I believe the Buddha and God exchange emails all the time.”
The two bishops whom he asked agreed that “the Spirit is doing ‘Christ-shaped’ things in people whether they are Christian or not.” This seems rather like Karl Rahner’s condescending “anonymous Christians”. When friends of different faiths share their deepest spiritual experiences and are silent together in the presence of the Holy One, words cease to matter.
The question to the reader is: “Have you heard the voice of God?” I vividly remember, when I was 13, after I had nearly drowned, the words “show forth thy praise by giving ourselves to thy service” echoed in my mind. By the time I had cycled home, I knew I wanted to be a vicar.
I wish that I was a more attentive listener and that, as a parish priest, I had done more to encourage people to tell their story. Perhaps, instead of preaching a sermon, I should have given everyone a blank piece of paper and ten minutes’ silence to write down what came into their minds.
The Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke is a Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths.
That Other Voice: In search of a God who speaks
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