After the miracle of birth something else happens that never ceases to amaze me. Voice recognition! I am always amazed how, in a room full of crying new-born babies, a mother always manages to recognize the voice of her own child. And, vice-versa, the baby always seems to recognize the mother’s voice when she calls, surrounded by a cacophony of sounds, voices and noises. I suspect that has something to do with the bond created during the previous nine months of great intimacy between mother and child.
There is something in the voice of a loved one which makes it different to any other voice in the whole world. I remember the episode when Mary of Magdala went to Jesus’ tomb on the day of his resurrection. “Mary”, he told her, and that’s when she immediately recognized him. The bond of love between these two people was so great that no one pronounced that name like he did! It is the voice of the Beloved in the Song of Songs, easily recognizable from afar, “Listen! My beloved! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills!” (2:8). Similarly, Elisabeth’s baby “leaps for joy” as soon as Mary’s greeting reaches Elisabeth’s ears! The voice of the loved one always brings joy, a smile on one’s face.
In today’s gospel Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd, and speaks of his relationship with his sheep. “My sheep hear my voice”, he says. It is a loving, warm relationship which gives a sense of security to the beloved. “No one will snatch them out of my hand,” he says. Very protective, too! Immediately another mother-image comes to mind: that of the chicken gathering her chicks under her protective wings, an image used by Jesus in other parts of the gospels.
My sheep hear my voice. Jesus does not speak of listening to orders or commands. It is the simple, and yet profound, act of hearing which crosses boundaries and shortens distances. It evokes love and intimacy. It gives a sense of security, of “feeling good”. The voice is a sound that reaches the heart before the mind starts making sense of the words spoken.
Unfortunately, far too often have we as Church mistaken the sound of this voice with orders! Our faith is not a religion of duties and obligations. It is a relationship of love. Like any other loving relationship, it can only grow with time, with presence, with listening to what is both spoken and unspoken.
A good question to ask myself during my prayer time this week is: how clearly do I hear my Shepherd’s voice?