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Introduction (Chapter 3)
The first time I heard the voice of grace
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It’s like snow has fallen inside of me.
The kind of gentle, thick snow which blankets the ground and paints every limb of every tree in the forest with its crystalline coating—even the very finest branches, all the way out to their tips—absorbing all the sounds of the wood. The din between my ears is growing more muted by the moment. Even the inner voice you hear when you say something silently to yourself is growing quiet.
(Go ahead, try it, say something inwardly and then don’t say it. You’ll notice you hear it with your inner ear, and then you hear the absence of it, too.)
I’m repeating the phrase—“And after the fire came a gentle whisper”—though the repetition is somehow not filling me with words but emptying me of them. I believe it is these coinciding conditions—my mind busy saying one thing and yet quiet enough to hear another thing—which makes possible what happens next. Like entering a clearing in a snow-muffled forest where a single cardinal is sounding its halcyon song, I hear another Voice.
Because I’m saying one thing into the silence, I know the other thing I hear is being said to me. The sensation of hearing rather than speaking—of receiving rather than broadcasting—is complete. I’m not on the stage delivering the line. I’m in the audience, and an Actor is whispering from the wings.
Instantly, I know this voice did not just now begin speaking. It’s not a one-off miracle I’ve magically triggered with my meditative prayer. It’s a voice that has always, is always, and will always be speaking within me. I’ll be able to hear it whenever the snow falls.
This is what it’s saying: “Kelly, you are my beloved son, on whom my favor rests. I am extravagantly fond of you. I always have been.” No pointing finger. No disappointment. No admonishment. Just belovedness. Just fondness. Just kinship.
“You are my beloved son, on whom my favor rests.”
These are the words Jesus heard as he resurfaced from the river Jordan, baptized, the heavens opening, a dove descending. Is the voice calling me Jesus? Of course not. And absolutely. It is my first inkling of a very great mystery. Part of the mystery is that when this voice treats you like it treated Jesus, it doesn’t inflate you, it humbles you, and the humility is like peace. It’s like a dove descending.
Then, on this first morning, the Voice says something specific to the morning: “Come downstairs to the hotel lobby, and spend some time with me.”
Have you seen those old cartoons in which an aroma drifts by an animated character, and they sort of levitate off their feet and float along with it, drawn onward by the apparently irresistible scent of it? That’s how it is for me now. I toss back the covers and throw my legs over the side of the bed. I stand. A great weight has been lifted from me.
I might as well be floating.
I turn to look behind me at the indentation in the bed, where I’d been lying only a moment before. “In a prison cell,” I think, “I’ve been living in a prison of my own making. I thought it was locked from the outside, but it was never locked, and I’ve always been free to walk out of it whenever I choose.”
I get dressed as quietly as possible in the dark, trying not to wake my family—it’s a year before I’ll buy my first iPhone, so no flashlight to guide my way. I grab the Henri Nouwen book I’ve been reading.
“Come to the lobby and spend some time with me.” I believe that calling is a simple one: some more quiet time, all by myself—a little introverted gift to me on Father’s Day. I couldn’t be more wrong.
My awakening is barely underway.
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