[Published online at Catapult Magazine, April 2010: http://www.catapultmagazine.com/a-job-to-do/feature/the-sound-of-a-calling]
My grandmother never imagined when she was sewing the curtains out of the same sunflower-patterned sheets that covered my bed in her spare room that God would see them. I never imagined that as I lay there one night in the center of bright yellow and darkness that he would come there to call me. A call without any sound at all. That he would fill up that space so that there was no room for even the tiniest whisper.
My 11-year-old body floated in it and was crushed beneath it, that presence that is invisible and weighty and thick with terror and peace. I knew right then that I was “called.” But that word held only one meaning for me then. People who were called left their families and taught cannibals that Jesus loves them (hopefully just in time). So I cried very hard.
As God gently retreated, the thin air rushed back to take his place as did my grandmother who came to me, shushing and patting and asking what bad dream I had. I told her God wanted me to do something. I kept saying it, God wants me to do something. I just didn’t know what. She comforted me, but I don’t recall any wise words from her. She just sat beside me, tucking me safely beneath the sunflower-patterned sheets.
Tip-tapping and scritch-scratching
Our neighbor boys knew exactly when it was time to come home for dinner. The clong of the small schoolhouse bell summoned them. It did not call my brother and me out of our sandbox, nor the Edwards sisters from their bike ride, nor any of the other children in the subdivision. Just the Pearson boys.
The burning bush spoke to Moses and a voice whispered Samuel’s name. But God’s voice is not always so clear, not always so obvious as our mother’s summons to come home for dinner. Often our calling is the sound of our gifts—the subtle vibrato that shimmers on the end of a singer’s note, the thwack of a hammer in the hand of a house builder. Even if we haven’t experienced God’s call in the Old Testament sense, we can find the evidence of his call in the noises we create in our work each day. When we are making noise with the gifts and talents that otherwise lie silent without our participation, we are living out our calling.
No parent hands his child a spoon to dig the foundation of a house; a father gives that child what she needs to carry out the task he has assigned. My Father says, Let your fingers tip-tap against the computer keys, or Grasp this pencil and write. This is why I love a sharp pencil. Tucked behind my ear, it begins to murmur ideas. Then, in its scratchy little voice, it starts to whisper words onto paper.
Today I made noise. I picked up my pencil and wrote an essay. I am not sure why God told me to hold a pencil instead of a scalpel or to delight in the weaving of words rather than of cloth. I am not sure why he came to my Grandmother’s spare bedroom.
That night I cried, it was out of fear. Not of what God wanted but of what I thought he wanted. God wants me to do something. And I know what it is. It is the same thing he calls every single one of us to do: to answer.
To answer the burning bush.
To answer the whisper.
To answer the waiting silence in a little girl’s room.
The sound of a calling can make many different noises, but the right answer makes only one sound. Yes.