I stepped into the funeral home on Tuesday afternoon. I had met with the family on Monday. The woman’s daughter described herself and her family as “spiritual but not religious,” although their roots were Lutheran, which is why the call came to me. I spent extra time that day walking through the funeral service itself, since it wasn’t terribly familiar to her. When I came to the point of asking if they had preferences for scripture, she looked at me blankly. And then she said, “Grandma will be here soon. She is the one who is a life long Lutheran. Maybe she’ll have something she wants.”
June, her grandma, did arrive within minutes. She had ridden along with daughter and son-in-law from Minot, North Dakota. It had been a long drive and every bit of her 84 year old body and spirit were clearly spent as she made her way through the front door. She wrapped her arms around her granddaughter and was kind when introduced to me. Only I guess in her surprise at being asked, she had no thoughts on the matter of favorite scripture either. By Tuesday afternoon she did, though. For when I asked again, her bright blue Norwegian eyes glistened as she said, “I don’t know where it comes from, but I want “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where is my help to come…” Psalm 121. And so we read that beloved Psalm at her daughter’s funeral the next day.
June has been listening to our Shepherd’s voice for a very long time. She may not have been able to quote chapter and verse, but still it returned to her again in her time of great need.
On Friday morning I stopped at the hospital to call on a 2 year old. Her grandpa had called the night before to say she had been admitted with pneumonia. Hospitals can be frightening places for anyone, but perhaps especially for little ones who can’t make sense of what is happening to them. As I walked down the hallway I heard her before I saw her. But no, she wasn’t crying. Rather, when I walked into her room I found her sitting up in her crib singing. She was in her pajamas, with a sleeve wrapped around the arm which held her IV — put there to protect it from her curiosity or fear. Attached to her left big toe was a pulse oximeter (and yes I had to look that up). Her little fingers are too small to hold it, but of course they still need to measure the oxygen level in her blood, and so they made do. And she was sitting up and singing. It was clearly a tune of her own making and the words were jumbled and difficult to understand, but it was a beautiful melody even so.
I smiled at the unexpected sound which continued throughout my brief visit with her mom and followed me down the hall as I left for other errands. I wondered as I drove away at the wonderful sounds which must have filled her life so far that she would sing in that frightening time and place. And I wondered, too, if maybe she sang in part to comfort herself — her mind retrieving gladder times and they then just spilled over in her little child’s voice — bringing with them the promise of glad times again.
I’m thinking that two year old has been hearing our Shepherd’s voice already… maybe through the sounds of earthly voices of those who love her, living out their promised protection and tender care. And perhaps in ways we can’t understand but only children can. Perhaps she hears the Shepherds’ voice as well and as she does and continues to do so I expect it will carry her, too, her whole life long.
Jesus speaks to us of the Shepherd’s voice today. It is a voice of promise. It is a voice that promises stubborn protection and care. It is the voice the flock hears and knows and follows. It is the voice which is especially precious in times of struggle and pain. And it is one we sometimes have to work harder to hear in better times when other voices especially seem to drown it out. And yet even when those other voices overwhelm; yes even when we don’t pause to listen it is always there, inviting and comforting and urging us on.
In times when I can’t quite hear it, I find I am especially blessed to hear others witness to its sound — whether it be those who grieve asking to hear again the promises our Shepherd’s voice has whispered in her ear her whole life long or it be the beautiful song of a little one — singing through her pain and fear and in her soft melody pointing to the safety and protection and joy she has already known — as only a two year old can. For oh yes, it is so that when I can’t hear it for myself I do find myself grateful to be able to walk with others for whom that precious voice is ringing clear. Those times remind me to pause and listen, too. For our Shepherd’s voice is calling out to me as well.
- What does our Shepherd’s voice sound like to you? What promises does it speak? What is the Shepherd calling you to?
- When did you last hear someone else testify to its sound?
- What do you have to do to be able to listen more deeply so as to hear that voice? What needs to be set aside, turned down, put off until later so that you can pause and listen, too?