A fleeting whisper

The ladies escorted us into the chapel and sandwiched us into a pew of adults, all the better to watch over two little girls by themselves at church. Inside, light flooded from tall, clear windows, bouncing off bright white walls.

Michelle understood how to find the words in the song book. She belted them out. All the adults looked at her like she was one of God’s own angels. Even with her finger pointing at the page, I didn’t know how to sing the words or what they meant. I thought if we went to Sunday school, I might learn. “Sunday school’s for babies,” Michelle said.

At least I understood what seemed like the most popular word: father, father, father. Michelle and I never mentioned the word and here it was on everyone’s lips. My own father had moved to California so I each time it was spoken aloud, it stung like salt in a wound.

Through the window, I could see Michelle’s bike leaning against a tree and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It wasn’t until after the service, when we filed back out into the lobby, that the experience took a turn for the sweeter. The ladies had set out plates of cookies on a long table; I had never seen such a rainbow assortment, including my favorites: the animal crackers dipped in pink or white frosting and coated in sprinkles. Now, here, was a language I understood. I made a little promise to myself to return here when I was older and could understand more.

If my first church experience made God seem like a vast unknown entity lurking at a great distance, I have another memory that suggests such a mystery could be equally vast, but far more personal. This was something that happened on the playground of my school after class ended for the day and most of the kids had gone home. A friend and I were playing on a set of parallel bars. I did one of those maneuvers where you pull yourself up so the bar is resting bellow your belly and then you tilt forward and spin fast. When my feet smacked the dirt and I was dangling right side up again, the world seemed like a new and different place. The school building seemed far away and not altogether real. I was me, but I was also not me. I was an altered me. I could see everything from a great distance but I was not afraid as I believe I would have been if it had been the usual me. I was both smaller and bigger than I understood and these were the facts. This strange perspective passed quickly; everything settled back into its proper proportion. I never forgot that sensation. I’ve reflected on it hundreds of times and have come to think of it as a fleeting whisper of God.

A short audio version of another adventure with Michelle (this one to the local fire station) lives here: http://nwpr.org/post/break-case-emergency-corinna-nicolaou.

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15 thoughts on “A fleeting whisper

  1. I enjoyed hearing your telling of your experience at the Fire Department with Michelle. As to that “fleeting whisper of God”, I had a similar experience with that whisper. Probably more than one by now but the one I want to tell about happened a few years after I had left my fundamentalist religion and was searching. I had been invited to a meditation group. I have to tell you that I was curious but also a little frightened because my fundamentalism had taught that the demons can enter our minds in a variety of ways and since they didn’t meditate they feared that Satan could capture your mind in the type of meditation I was pondering no matter that it was called, “Teaching of the Inner Christ.” I arrived at the group with this apprehension. The leader took us into a very deep meditation. We each sat with plenty of space around us….about ten people. I remember thinking: “Well, if this is from the demons it could be a very frightening experience.” But the only thing that kept occurring was an experience throughout my body of an ever growing warmth. Then it happened: A clear soft voice whispered in my ear…..”You are loved.” My eyes popped open immediately to see if anyone was standing near me. No one was. It was a wonderful experience and I have never been afraid of deep meditation since then although I never again heard the voice.

    • Hi Frank, What a reassuring and beautiful experience you describe. It seems like when we take a risk and step out of our “comfort zones,” these wonderful things can happen. I’ve found that to be the case so many times on this journey.

  2. Childhood memories of church and childhood memories of God are not quite the same thing. Churches are just people trying to find God, serve God, and get to know God. You may find or see God in some of them, in others you may not. Doesn’t mean he is not there, just that he speaks to us in different ways through different people.
    Little confused about these stories from your childhood and how they relate to your search, but I trust you will tie it all together here at some point. I appreciate you sharing these inner thoughts. Hi from Texas. We miss Washington, but Texas is home now. Guess we kinda traded spots.

    • Hi Tom, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Often, during this search, I find myself reflecting on my past experiences, so I just want to share a bit of that. My hope is that these tidbits enrich the future posts. I miss Texas. Washington is great, but so many people I love are down there.

  3. Corinna: Thanks for that….I also listened to the fire station story and how your desire to connect with your father burned. I know the pain of a missing father….Growing up, I realized that my dad favored my older brother over me. He was the first-born son and six years older. (As an adult, I’ve thought much about it and concluded that the childhood impression was undoubtedly accurate….my dad was, as we all are with our children, highly imperfect). My brother joined the navy out of high school and my dad died of a stroke about six weeks later. I was thirteen, anticipating that now, at last, I had my dad all to myself…..My dad was not abusive, just not involved in my life….When I became a Christian, I learned a lot about God the Father….but I connected with Jesus the Son, uncertain if the Father actually cared much about me….I didn’t know it then, but children gain their initial impressions of God through their relationship with their parents, Much of my life was spent proving (to myself) that I was just as–or more so–worthy of my father’s love than my brother. I did the same thing with God the Father, and the result was the same (in my mind)…..he is never satisfied….About five years ago, I got real honest with God and cried out, “What do you really think of me?” Immediately I thought about a familiar verse from Proverbs (3:12) that I generally heard in a different context (like whenever I get thwacked upside the head): “the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (NLT). It was not exactly an audible voice, but what it was that directed me to the Proverbs was just as real and is still there, engraven in immortal words on my heart….. Delights in me? That was the beginning of understanding the Father’s great delight, passion, and anticipation of having me in his family as a son. The pain of losing my earthly father is still real, but in the understanding and facing of that bitter reality concerning my dad, I’ve at last discovered who I am….I am my Father’s son. Nothing can take that from me.

    • I meant to mention that, when Jesus used the word ‘Father’ to speak of God, he was using a word that the Jews did not use in public worship. They were incensed that he would use such a term to address the Almighty. Yet, he taught his followers to address God in this personal way (think of the Lord’s Prayer–but it wasn’t ‘liturgy’ when he did so). American Christians (and others) often refer to God as ‘Father’ without thinking about the deep personal relationship that Jesus taught. I used it for years as just another title for God. The word, as you noticed, is all over the hymnals. To you it stung, a deep, grinding hurt, because of your own father deserting you….if God is my “Father,” when might he leave me when I need him most? The word Jesus actually used was from his native Aramaic tongue: “Abba,” the term that little children use to address their fathers. It’s kind of like our English “daddy,” but not exactly. It’s intimate, comfortable, relational, a word a child uses coming to its father without hesitation and without fear that the father will ever pull away. With that little bit of background, it may become easier to recognize that the common picture of a distant, all-seeing, holy, stern God is not accurate. He is holy and righteous and all those things, to be sure, but, to the one who longs for God, Jesus replaced that picture with himself when he told his disciple Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

  4. Corinna, I enjoyed your telling of the experience on the monkey bars. What you had was a kind of transcendental experience. I think our modern life is structured to lead us away from these, but there are those who seek more of them, because this is the doorway to the Spirit of God. I would invite you to check out the Christian Mystics website at Christianmystics.com/basics/whatis.html
    You will find a lot of very interesting and useful information for your journey.
    Jan

  5. Corinna, I just finished reading your blog from end to end, all the comments and side trips too, and I have to say, this is wonderful. There are many things I love about it, a few of which are:
    1. The goal of your adventure: “mining religion for essential wisdom to live better.” I really get that. There’s much wisdom in religion, among many other places it can be found. There’s also much crap in religion, and it does take a heart of curiosity, humor and wonder to sift through to the gold. Seems to me like you have that kind of heart. Oh, I guess that’s another thing I love about this blog, your heart.
    2. The freshness of your observations, and your obvious teachability. These make your writing relatable to me and it seems, to others.
    3. The generosity of your taking us along on your mining adventure!
    4. The community of commenters. There’s something very interesting going on in The Reply Zone. I must admit, some of the comments piss me off, like when people tell you the “right” way to do this religion thing. But that fleeting whisper that we all hear from time to time has been suggesting to me that all the while I’m branding comments “intolerant” and “judgmental”, I’m being intolerant and judgmental. Hmmm. Sometimes I too get all enthusiastic about a truth I’ve discovered, and it seems like everyone in the world should see it as I do. The comments I like the best are the ones that come from peoples’ hearts, more than their heads. And I’ve seen a lot of kindness and grace given from one to another. So some of the same elements I see in organized religion (intolerance, judgmentalism, kindness, grace) I see right here in this little blog, and I also see them in me.

    You’ve said you’re mining for wisdom so you can live better. I think that’s marvelous. Not wisdom for the sake of being wise, but for living better. I want that too. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to come along with you and learn with you and these others who have joined you.
    Shelley

    • Hi Shelley, I’m so happy to have your company on this journey. It gets a little rough at times, but I’ve found that if I just stay the course and try to keep my heart open even when it feels like snapping shut, I come out the other side a little better for it. I just read your blog at homewithin and you are hilarious. Yay for Sidney the Kidney!

      • Keeping your heart open, that’s really the key to it all, I think. Wonder how different this world would be if we could all keep our hearts open. I find that when I do, that’s when I’m truly alive.

  6. Good morning Corinna,

    A friend last week handed me a newspaper article entitled ‘None of above’ that came out on January 2, 2013 in Pittsfield, IL. The article provided for me a reality check. I am leader in the Church of the Nazarene and as I begin to read your journey/blog today, my spirit is encouraged. Am going to learn something. Thank you for your honesty and candidness.

    • Hi Pastor JK, Thank you for being here. A few other pastors, ministers, and just plain wise elders are following and commenting and I think having this perspective and input enriches the experience for everyone (and certainly for me).

  7. I am sorry for the sorrow of your parents’ breakup and the wounds it left for you. Many people know that pain, as do I. It’s like a pall over the entire world. And yet God breaks through, as it seems He did for you while swinging on the parallel bars. And once you sense that beauty, that fleeting view into something supernatural, you just want to find it again. It’s like a longing inside that just wants to be satisfied. Yet we have to deal with the realities, the losses, the pain in life from a very young age. It seems like there should be some sort of a buffer period for children, at least!
    There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Isaiah. He saw a vision one day while in the temple. It scared him to death and also changed his life. He felt called by God and became a prophet. It was one hard job. But he woke up early in the morning and he would hear God’s voice. Perhaps that’s what propelled him to stick with it.
    I ran across a beautiful passage the other day that you might like. Divorce, loss, pain was going on way back then, too. One morning the word came to Isaiah, and he told the people to sing for joy, celebrate, and rejoice. He said the Lord will have compassion on them in their suffering. But the people said this, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” But God said, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of (your city’s) walls in ruins. Soon your descendants will come back, and all who are trying to destroy you will go away.” (This is from Isaiah 49:13-17)
    God is into restoring all that has been broken down. That is why I love Him so. Thank God for fleeting whispers. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

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