Privacy

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            I would not have seen him if he had not called out my name.

            I was in the Denver airport, checking out the area around my gate; he was on a moving sidewalk going the opposite direction. “Victor!” I heard, and hearing my name, I turned around. It was Father Matthew Olver, waving an arm at me as he went past. We met at the end of the sidewalk and enjoyed the surprise of the unexpected intersection of our respective journeys. But if he had called out anything else except my name, I would not have heard his voice, not there amidst the clamor of hundreds of voices of people moving in thousands of directions.

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            We tend to think that our sensations are things we share with other people but that our thoughts are interior and private. Actually it is the other way around. It is our sensations that belong to each of us individually and are private, in the sense of unshareable. Herbert McCabe gives this example. I cannot know what you taste when you drink a pint of Guinness. But when you say “a pint of Guinness” I know exactly what you mean.

            Thoughts, ideas, stories, convictions—these are the things we can share. And there’s the paradox: the most personal things about us are the most shareable things.

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            Who we really are comes out when we hear someone call our name. This happens in friendship. She was in the garden, tears on her face, bereft that not only had her dearest friend died, but his body had been removed and seemed lost. A man she took to be a gardener asked her why she was weeping; she replied that her friend’s body had been taken from the tomb, and that she knew not where it had been laid. He then said her name. At once she recognized him.

            This is of course the story of Mary Magdalene seeing the risen Jesus for the first time (John 20). It shows the remarkable power of our name. When the good shepherd says our name, everything in our heart is brought into the open, and tears are turned into joy.

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            In a world of crime and persons with evil intent, we all rightly guard our privacy: even true things about us can be put to bad use by those who would wish us harm. But in the kingdom of heaven, it seems to me, there is no privacy. There is individuality, each person a unique locus of glory.

            There is, we see, nothing private about God. Each Person of the Trinity just is his relationship to the other two. Everything interior is brought forth and offered in love.

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            Out & About. January 15, I will start a four-Sunday series, “Strange but True Things about God.” We’ll cover basic questions of creation, freedom, evil, and prayer. The classes are at 10:20 a.m. in Room 119 of the education building of Incarnation, 3966 McKinney.

Hearing

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The Bible seems to distrust seeing. In Genesis chapter 1, the sun and moon are demoted from the divine status that others accorded them. They are mere creatures, brought into being on the fourth day (note: there were three “days” without a sun—so clearly a “day” here is not something that depends on the sun for its meaning). Moreover, the author doesn’t even deign to name them; he says, instead, “the greater light” and “the lesser light.” Seeing has led many people to paganism. We, the Bible seems to say, must learn to listen to God. The godly task is to learn to hear.

To hear what? The Word was with God in the beginning, indeed was God. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

Before the Word was made manifest—before we could see his glory—the woman who is the consummation of the preparation, the Virgin Mary, has to hear correctly. The angel appears to her—and just so, there is seeing involved—but Mary must hear Gabriel’s voice, must hear and understand his words.

If you say daily Morning Prayer, you know the line from Psalm 95: “Today, if ye will hear his voice. . . .” Or, in the 1979 Psalter, “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!” It is evidently very important for us to learn to hear.

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He was ten years old when he first heard it. “I want to follow you,” he said, “I just need to grow up first. 

When he was twenty-two it came again. “I just finished college, and now I need to do some living. But then I’ll listen; I won’t be young forever.”

And when he was thirty? “I have to work so hard; the children, the bills. I haven’t forgotten you, just I can’t right now.”

And when he was forty, he heard something that reminded him of a longing deep buried somewhere inside him. But he didn’t have time to dig for it.

He was about fifty-five when it came again. “I’m at the height of my career; things are going so well. This is a great time of life.”

At his retirement, the voice spoke again. “Sorry,” he said, “but I worked so hard for so long for the company, the family. Now it’s time for me to think about myself.”

And when he was seventy-five, the voice came again, but he was unable to hear it.

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To hear the voice of God is to respond: in the present, where we are, with all that we are. It’s very simple. When you hear the voice, just say, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Or say, “Here I am; I’m yours.”

To put off the voice—to resist the discipline of hearing—is to risk deafness. “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Imagine Mary is in front of you. She is saying, “Repeat after me.”

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Out & about. This Sunday, December 18, I will be teaching on the Song of Songs at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas. The class is in the Memorial Chapel at 10:20. Visitors are of course welcome. Previous sessions on the Song of Songs are posted here: https://incarnation.org/class-recordings/

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."