Saturday, February 27, 2010

Voice III

In the early days after my conversion, I heard many things from a Voice that I assumed was God or God through the Holy Spirit, directing, teaching, and, surprisingly, tasking me. While little things, but they were often things that could be confirmed in their authenticity by subsequent events. Here are a couple:

Incident 1

After my first confession, I was frustrated and confused (which, I now freely admit that I had no right to be). The priest to whom I had been assigned – this was a large group set up for all in the parish before Easter – was partially deaf and spoke only Spanish. I probably could have managed communicating with him in Spanish, but with impaired hearing and a non-native accent, he would never have understood me. Not that he understood me in English! So, he gave me ten Our Fathers for a penance, not having understood or perhaps even heard much of what I said. Obviously, I was not in the right frame of mind for any penance to be sincere, and partway through the second iteration of Our Father, I felt myself being pulled by the elbow to the outside of the church. Once outside, I exclaimed, “He didn’t listen. I could have said that I burned down the town and murdered ten priests, and he would have given me the same penance!”

“I listen,” answered the Voice. There can be much communication in just two words!

Of course, since then, I have come to understand better the nature and role of confession, as well as the role of the priest. Having been "instructed" by the Voice, though, I came to that understanding much more quickly than I might have otherwise.

Incident 2

In the early days, I did not know that not everyone heard the Voice as I did. A good friend, in whom I had confided several of my experiences with the Voice, made the comment to me that she did not understand why she could not hear the Voice and wondered if there was something wrong with her. I did not think so, but the next time at prayer, I asked.

“She is fragile,” came the response. I had no idea how to interpret that comment!

Nonetheless, the next time I spoke to her, I told her what I had heard. In a shocked voice, she said words that then shocked me: “I understand completely. I have been diagnosed with Fragile Person Syndrome.” Oh, my! I had no idea what that was, but when she explained it to me, I understood how apt the response had been.

When I first began sharing my experiences with what I call "the Voice" with readers, I was very reluctant to mention these experiences at all, let alone in detail. The response of readers, though, gave me courage to continue sharing, and the fact that I was not alone among those in the blogosphere also gave me courage. However, somewhere along the line, quite recently, I have come to full comfort with this situation. I suppose there have been many things that have fed into that comfort, including learning that others have the same experiences, finding some historical descriptions of similar experiences, and, most important, coming to the realization that it is not my choice how God communicates with me. It is God's choice how He communicates with me or with anyone. The fact that I do not know why He chooses one means of communication for me and other means for others should not trouble me. (It could be as simple as my being too "dense" to "hear" or understand anything more subtle.) I should simply be happy that God is willing to communicate with me. I am.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Rev. Jean-Pierre de Caussade (Abandonment to Divine Providence) writes that “. . . the soul that recognizes the will of God in every smallest event, and also in those that are most stressful and direful, receives all with an equal joy, pleasure, and respect. It throws open all its doors to receive with honor what others fear and fly from with horror. . . . for faith cannot be said to be real, living faith until it is tried and has triumphed over every effort for its destruction. . . . To consider God equally good in things that are petty and ordinary as in those that are great and uncommon is to have a faith that is not ordinary, but great and extraordinary.”

De Caussade’s words ring true for me both at the intellectual level and also at the visceral level. Perhaps that is why I could forgive my mother for her long-term, daily physical and emotional abuse and my grandfather, Pop for his long-term, frequent sexual violation of me. As I wrote in my book, Blest Atheist, "With time, Pop receded into an emotional grave where he lost his last shred of control over me. Dispassionate understanding helped. Even as a teenager, I could understand Pop's inability to control his sexual urges because I careened through childhood in the attire of unsatisfied emotional cravings. Much later I would come to understand that I was loved as a child. I was loved by God. Those understandings made forgiving Pop possible."

I can forgive and even love these people who hurt me for one clear reason: God’s use of these experiences to grow in me the skills and courage to help others, not only those in abusive situations but also those with any kind of problem, including my own son, whom I had to steal from a hospital intent on letting him die. Those experiences were used as well to provide encouragement to my then 10-year-old paraplegic daughter to speak out before a congressional inquiry into violations of special needs regulations, and to have the impulse to insist on ethical behavior from all with whom I come into contact.

Through my children with birth defects, God prepared me to help many other parents and ultimately to rescue a dying child artist from Siberia. Those experiences were essential in supporting my son Shane and his wife Lemony through five surgeries for my grandson Nathaniel, who was born with hydronephrosis, and many continuing surgeries for my granddaughter Nikolina, who was born unassembled and with OEIS Complex, spina bifida, and hydronephrosis.

Through these experiences, God taught me sufficient humility (although I am still working on that trait) to rely on Him and not on my own self-confident independence through the ordinary ups and downs of life, including the current siege under which the Mahlou clan finds itself as a result of Shane being fired (seemingly because of Nikolina’s medical condition). As the Twenty-Third Psalm says, “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” This is something I do not have to take on faith for I have experienced God with me through all the ordinary and extraordinary events in my life, making the extraordinary ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary.

My favorite ordinariness?
(1) The minutes during the day when I am in communication with God through ordinary prayer;
(2) contemplation;
(3) God's breaking through my barriers to enlighten, love, or task me; and
(4) the subtle manipulation of events such that I can “see” His hand in every moment and act of my daily life.

Were I only to be more aware, what else might I see!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Voice II

In the early days after my conversion, I heard the Voice regularly. Prayer to me was a dialogue with the Voice. I would ask for lessons, and things would happen. Or, out of the blue, the Voice would task me with something, always something that I did not want to do.

One early example was the day when praying about something entirely different, the Voice interrupted me with the words, “Call your mother.” To understand the significance of this, one must know that my mother (my only living parent) had so abused her eight children both as children and as adults and abused our children (her grandchildren) as well that all of the “8-pack” (my seven siblings and I) had written her off. I had not been in touch with her for ten years, and I certainly had no intention of just up and calling her for no reason at all. In fact, it would take some sleuthing to find out where she lived and what her phone number was.

So, this did not seem right. I was sure I had not heard correctly. “There is no way I am going to call my mother,” I responded. “She is a bad person.”

“She lives in grace,” responded the Voice, and that was the end of the communication.

I fumed and sputtered about it all being so unfair, arguing that she should not live in grace after everything she had done to us (beating, biting, kicking, stabbing and letting us be used as sex objects by male relatives). I stomped around the Old Mission grounds, punching the air in anger. I must have been an interesting sight to anyone walking by. I wonder what they might have thought I was — drunk or deranged.

The Voice would have its way, though. I finally realized that I have no right to judge Ma. (Oh, but how I wanted to!) Only God could do that, and if God said that she lived in grace, who was I to say anything to the contrary?

Assuming that the Voice I had heard was Who I thought it was, I figured I had better make a phone call. That was easier said than done. I spent a few days and tracked down my mother’s phone number, yet I could not bring myself to make the call. Every time I felt that Presence around me, pushing me just a bit, I would resist. Finally, I turned to God and said, “I cannot make this call. I have no idea what to say. What can I say after ten years?”

The Voice immediately responded. One word only: “Listen.”

Sure, of course, I could call, tell her who I was, and then just listen. And that is what I did. I called her. There was complete shock in her voice as she said, “Is this Beth? It sounds like Beth used to sound.” I confirmed her guess, and she took over, talking non-stop for an hour, occasionally asking a question, filling me in on her life, telling me about her concerns. Clearly, she had mellowed as she approached her 80th year.

The outcome of that conversation was that more of the 8-pack began speaking to her, and a year later seven of the eight of us returned to Maine to celebrate her 80th birthday, the first time we had all been together back in Maine in more than 30 years. Rollie, unfortunately, could not get off work, but he, too, had forgiven Ma for the horrific abuse of him and would have come had he been able to.

Another example of God turning bad into good -- and teaching the value of waiting and forgiving. And of the Voice tasking me in ways that have led to spiritual growth.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I do not like to believe that Evil exists. It would be so much easier just to assume that only Good surrounds us, that we can ignore God or accept God, but either way, Life is Good. That is what I would like to believe, but it is hard to do so when one is attacked, or seems to be attacked, by what would be difficult to label as anything other than Evil.

Whether I was attacked by Evil as an atheist, I do not know. I may not have recognized an attack had there been one. On the other hand, maybe Evil was comfortable with me the way I was. After all, I was not a threat.

After my conversion, however, a couple of events happened that were difficult to ignore or to pass off as anything other than Evil. Considering that I am by nature somewhat oblivious to what goes on around me (making for the stuff that my son Doah used for his book about all the embarrassing and odd predicaments I have always found myself in, such as accidentally poisoning a house guest and striding off to work not fully clothed), it is perhaps not so amazing that the ways in which I have felt attacked by Evil post-conversion have been overt and growingly forceful.

Twice, not long after my conversion, as I left work late at night, the only person around, I distinctly felt as if Someone were sitting in the back seat. Both times, I whipped around and saw no one but still felt a dark presence. In the event that it might be something of an evil sort, for that is precisely what it felt like, I spoke aloud, "Whoever you are, please do not skulk about in the back seat. Come up front with me and sit in the passenger seat. We can pray together all the way home because that is what I intend to do." Each time, no sooner had I finished speaking than the sense of darkness and evil dissipated.

Then there was the time that it seemed like I was being stalked when I was taking my evening walk at Old Mission. Every since I castigated That (whatever That was), I have not had another experience of the same. (The story is a bit long for including here. If you are interested, please see the post on Blest Atheist.)

For some time now, I have no longer been attacked in the open, at least not recently that I have been aware of. (I am conscious of the fact that Evil can attack in very sweet, seductive ways that may not be noticed as being evil in nature, and I have to assume that I am every bit as susceptible to those as anyone else and try to continue to improve my ability to discern the nature of the experiences, temptations, and "directions" that are in front of me). About six months post-conversion, though, I began to have deeply disturbing, dark, godless nightmares, which I understood as Evil's way to reach me when I was at my most vulnerable: asleep. Now, I am not a person who knows how to be sleepless. Although I sleep, on the average, probably fewer total hours than the average person, I do sleep. I fall asleep easily and, unfortunately, very soundly. No one can wake me up for any reason when I am asleep, a problematic trait when my kids were small and ill at night. My husband, Donnie, was always the one to tend them. (The only exception was the two years that Doah was having apneic episodes. I would sense the instant he was not breathing and was immediately wide awake to give him CPR. I had no explanation of that unique phenomenon at the time. I do now: God clearly wanted Doah to live, and I had to be instrument for that, so He woke me up again and again and again.)

When the horrible nightmares struck, I began to pray that my dreams be filled only with thoughts of God. The first night I prayed that, the terrible dreams did not appear. I awoke refreshed, with the sense that my dreams had been wonderful. (With the exception of those black nightmares, I have never been able to remember my dreams.) The second night that I prayed that my dreams be filled only with thoughts of God, the terrible dreams did not appear. Again, I awoke refreshed, with the sense that my dreams had been wonderful. Since then, I have prayed for dreams only of God every single night, and every single night since then God has answered that prayer. Thank You, God!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


It is with more than a bit of trepidation that I begin this series of posts about “the Voice.” On the one hand, I truly want to think of myself as sane (and do), yet finding little literature on this topic and even fewer people with similar experiences (most of them dead) makes me wonder if I truly am. On the other hand, I am still a relatively new convert, who is still trying to learn how I am “supposed” to behave with God. There is much I do not know or understand. In the interim, while I am still learning (which may take many years), I do know that God did something extraordinary for me. He let me feel His presence very distinctly, so I now feel comfortable and comforted going to Him for absolutely everything and listening or watching for His response. Perhaps, then, the Voice is not such an unexpected thing, after all.

The first time I heard the Voice, what was happening did not hit me, or according to the closest Russian equivalent of “I did not realize,” “ya ne davala sebe otchet” (lit. I did not give myself a reckoning) of what had happened. It was at the beginning of the 2-week period that resulted in my conversion, a period in which I felt caught in a cosmic nutcracker. Since all was so surreal during that time, I suppose I just added the Voice to the list of otherworldly phenomena I was experiencing.

As I was strenuously fighting the very idea that there might be an all-powerful supernatural force that people from various religions call God, I became angry with this Supreme Supernatural. “If You exist,” I cried out, “You could have helped my children. Why were they born with birth defects if You are all-powerful and can affect life on this planet?”

Very quietly but distinctly, an otherworldly Voice that I have described elsewhere as less than a voice and more than a thought pronounced just two words: “Read Job.” Although it took me a while to realize that I was being referred to a book in the Bible and then more time to find a Bible — atheists do not typically stock Bibles on their home-library shelves, in Job, indeed, I found the answer to my outcry. (You can read the answer I found here on Mahlou Musings, where I posted it some time ago.)

The second time I heard the Voice, I was still in the cosmic nutcracker period of my life, and again I did not pay any particular attention to the Voice being a supernatural phenomenon since everything I was experiencing at the time was supernatural. Moreover, I was fighting that supernatural influence that would not let go of me with every piece of logic and hard-science-factual information that I could find.

My friend, Jean, with whom I was corresponding at the time was on the receiving end of many an angry e-mail, filled with my thrashing-about-rants while caught in that cosmic nutcracker. Why Jean? Because she was with me when I demanded that God, if He existed, reveal Himself. (I thought I would then be able to say to Jean, “See? No God!”) I never dreamt that there would immediately be an unseen third party at our restaurant table Whom we both strongly felt and Whose presence brought such confusion to both our minds (for differing reasons) that neither of us could eat; we left the food behind and followed the Presence to the beach where we talked until the middle of the night, Jean not wanting to miss out on any time with such an overwhelmingly present Presence and I definitely not wanting to be alone with what I was sensing. Jean told me later that the barrage of e-mails she received from me was the equivalent of an electronic temper tantrum. I suppose that is as good a description as any of my reaction to being caught in the cosmic nutcracker.

In the midst of my thrashing about, I heard that same laconic, otherworldly Voice calmly but firmly say, “Read about Solomon.” When I finally tracked down, after a number of failed attempts, the specific information to which I assumed I was being referred (Thank God for online, searchable Bibles, which I had discovered by then), it made eminent sense. In the story of Solomon’s life, as told in the book of Ecclesiastes, I found many parallels with my own attitudes, parallels that I began to take to heart. (More details are given in my conversion story, linked above.)

Why I listened to that Voice while convinced, or at least wanting to stay convinced, that God does not exist, I cannot explain. But I did listen, and that has made a great difference in my life.