Monday, March 15, 2010

Voice VI

Months passed before I heard the Voice again. When I did, I was quite startled both by the hearing of it and by the content. It often seems to come out of the blue and when I am engaged in doing something that requires concentration, such as driving or reading, pulling me instantly from the task at hand although when driving I cannot always just stop as I can when reading.

In the case that I am about to relate, I had been doing some consultation for the Ministry of Education in Bahrain. That particular day I had finished early and was reading in my hotel room. The sun does not set until quite late during the hot days of early fall in Bahrain, and at 4:00 in the afternoon, the sun was at full throttle, providing me with lots of natural light for enjoying the book I had brought with me.

As I was reading, seated at the window, I heard four distinct words that pulled me instantly from my book: "Bring him to Me."

Simultaneously, I saw the image of an employee who worked for me. Or, more accurately, who worked for a supervisor three rungs in the ladder below me. I, however, did know the employee and knew that he was a devout Catholic of the Chaldean persuasion.

"He is with you," I responded instinctively. My talking-back trait that drove my mother to fury has not changed, no matter who the partner in conversation is. I am relieved that God does not have the same response as my mother!

No, no fury. All I got was a soft, short comment: "Not enough."

Oh, my! This tasking was going to be complicated. How on earth was I going to approach this employee? Write to him and tell him what I had been told? He would think I was bonkers!

Nonetheless, I clearly had to "bring him" to God even though I knew (thought) that he was devout. Goodness! I took a deep breath, turned on my computer, hooked up to the Internet, and sent a brief note of query: "Is everything all right with you?"

Days and nights occurring at different times in the Middle East and the USA, it was the next day before I got his response. Indeed, he said, everything was not only all right but going swimmingly well. He went on to talk about his children's recent accomplishments at school, his success at work, and even his wife's success at her job. He was not making this easy for me at all. Feeling rather foolish but nonetheless mission-compelled, I typed back five words: "I mean with your soul." What a strange thing to write to an employee!

I waited impatiently for the next day to arrive, wondering how he would interpret this highly personal intrusion into his life -- and from his boss's boss's boss's boss. This was not the typical topic of discussion between people so far apart in a hierarchy. (On the other hand, I have worked diligently and successfully to flatten our hierarchy.)

The answer came. It was perplexingly ambiguous. Had it been a voice conversation, I would have labeled his response dissembling. As it was written, I can only say that he did not answer the question directly. Although he claimed that all was fine with his soul, he made unclear references to future concerns about issues that might or might not come up but that he felt on top of. I had no idea what he was talking about or even how to respond to what seemed to me to be gibberish.

I did not have to wait long, however, for a fuller understanding. In the middle of the next night (it was a Thursday; I remember that because Thursdays and Fridays in Bahrain are the weekend, and I mistakenly thought I was going to get a good night's sleep because I did not have to get up early the next day), I received an urgent phone call from the immediate supervisor of this employee, whom I shall call M. It turned out that the husband of another employee, a Muslim, had called him and threatened to sue our organization because his wife was having an affair with M. Ah, hah! Now the "bring him to Me" made a lot of sense!

I explained to the first-line supervisor, who was quite new in the position, that he did not need to worry about the angry husband. The husband could not sue the organization. We had not required his wife to have an affair with a co-worker, nor had anything taken place at work premises. We talked a bit about why the husband would feel like he could and should contact the supervisor, the differences between Muslim and non-Muslim marriages, and the marital fidelity that is required especially on the part of the wife by Shariya law. I was a bit concerned for the female employee and not without reason. Fortunately, others in her community stepped up to protect her.

The first-line supervisor was calmed. After sending me additional information by email and being fully reassured, again, by me that there was nothing to worry about, he could go on with business as usual. I, however, could not. I still had not completed the tasking of "bring him to Me."

There being nothing more that I could do from a distance, I filed away all the e-notes just in case I were to need them (I still have them because they are evidence of the remarkability of what transpired), then completed my consult in Bahrain.

As soon as I arrived back in California, I called the employee into my office at the end of the work day for what turned out to be a two-hour conversation. While his having an affair was really none of my business, it clearly had been made my business. I told M I knew about the affair and asked why he had told me that all was well with his soul when this was going on. He said nothing. Then I told him about the voice and being told "bring him to Me." At that point, M broke down, stuttered that he knew he had a great wife (I reinforced that notion because I had met her and knew that to be true) and felt remorseful. I suggested that he tell her before someone else did, our community being small. He demnurred; I asked him to consider this strongly and to get guidance from his priest. "Oh, no," he said. "There is no way I am going to confess this to my priest; he knows my whole family." Well, he should have thought about that ahead of time. He begged me to find someone who did not know him. I refused, but I did take him to Old Mission to pray together with him about this.

During that first meeting, he told me how worried he was for the safety of the female employee, with whom he had severed relations once with the husband had found out. He said that she had been forced to write a suicide note by her husband. She had told the local police, but they did not understand Muslim tradition, especially honor killings, and pooh-poohed any need for concern. M wanted to absolve himself of any need to act on her behalf because he did not want any of his acquaintances to learn about his unfaithfulness, but I insisted that he tell her adult daughter everything he knew because she would understand and know what to do. I tried to impress upon him his responsibility to do everything possible to ensure her safety regardless of his reputation. He wavered, but he did do it.

We had a second meeting a short while after our late-evening prayer on the mission grounds. He told me that he had talked to the woman's daughter and to an elder couple in the Muslim community, and the latter had given shelter to the woman to protect her until her husband got over his anger and realized that US law prohibited him from harming his wife. That realization took a couple of months, and ultimately the couple divorced. M told me that he had also talked to his own wife, realizing that I was right. Were she to find out from someone else -- and everyone had begun talking about this -- it would hurt her far more than his coming to her in remorse. She forgave him. He also had been able, with more than a little effort, to put aside his pride, go to confession, and achieve reconciliation with the help of his own priest.

So, all is well, I guess, that ends well. I am not sure quite how to rate the ending. I am also not sure how to rate my performance. I tried the best I knew, not having been given any further instructions or any explicit guidance, to accomplish the "bring him to Me" task. Was bringing him to Old Mission in prayer enough?

Of course, the age-old question nagged: why me? God only knows! Yeah, that would be right. God does know; I don't, and I suppose I don't need to know.

Did I do what was expected of me? I don't know that, either, since I was having to come up with my own response. I can only assume that having been given the tasking, had I marched off in a wrong direction, I would have been either pulled back to the right path overtly or gently nudged back there without my noticing it. The former did not happen. If the latter happened, I would not even know.

I am getting much better these days at accepting the not knowing of it all. Not knowing why people and things get put in my path. Not knowing what exactly is expected of me. Not knowing if how I respond meets with God's approval. None of that matters much to me any more. I know that God loves me. I know that I honestly try my best to do as I am asked. If I need to know more than that, I will be given to know it. In the interim, I am happy to serve God in whatever way I can, even if it is imperfectly.


  1. I've heard those words before! Bring Him to me or bring her to me, I mean. In my case, it's usually a call to intercessory prayer and to offer up my sufferings for the person in question. It seems to me that you did exactly as He asked :) I'm glad the lady came through this safely, too. Scary to imagine what might have happened to her had he not spoken to her daughter.

  2. And I took the command very literally. I tend to do that -- be literal, I mean. I never thought that it could be a request for intercessory prayer; I thought I was supposed to take the guy by the arm and drag him to God (in this case, into prayer at the mission), so that is what I did! You are right; bad things could have happened, but, thank God, they did not.