“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.’” – Exodus 3:7
Today is the birthday of Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was born in present-day Macedonia in 1910. At the age of 21, she took her vows and began teaching at a schoolhouse outside Calcutta. The impoverished conditions around the school deeply disturbed her. One day, while riding the train, she felt a calling to leave the safety of her convent and to live among the poor. She traded in her traditional habit for a white cotton sari with a blue border. After two years of service to the poor, sick, and hungry on the streets of Calcutta, the Vatican gave her permission to start a congregation. Over the decades, her simple ministry had grown to more than 4,000 workers in 133 countries; opening orphanages, homes, mobile health clinics, and schools.
There are many stories and quotes about Mother Teresa. My favorite is attributed to an interview she gave about prayer. The interviewer wanted to know about the content and conversation of her prayers. The journalist asked, “What do you pray for?” Mother Teresa responded, “When I pray, mostly I just listen.” This response prompted the obvious follow up question, “And what does God say?” Mother Teresa said, “Mostly, God just listens.”
Mother Teresa was not being clever, she was echoing scripture. The Bible repeatedly affirms the listening God: Psalm 66:17-20, Isaiah 65:24, 1 John 5:14-15, and more. In the United Church of Christ we affirm that God is still speaking. This is a beautiful truth. Yet we do well to remember that the creative voice of God emerges first from a listening silence. How long did God listen before calling the world into being? Before God speaks into our lives, God listens to how our days unfold. Powerful voices are able to speak to the heart of their hearers. And the best way to know the heart of another is to first listen.