Book review: ‘Listening for God in Everyday Life’
“Listening for God in Everyday Life.” By Joseph D. White, Ph. D. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2020. 109 pages. Paperback: $9.95; Kindle: $7.96; Nook: $8.49.
In chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings, we encounter the story of God speaking to the prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb. We are told that a great wind, an earthquake and a fire pass by the cave where Elijah is waiting, but God is not in any of those thunderous events. Then the prophet hears a “tiny whispering sound,” at which point he “hid his face in his cloak and went and stood in the entrance to the cave” (1 Kings 19:13) for now Elijah was in the presence of God.
Reading the book “Listening for God in Everyday Life” by Joseph D. White is a bit like being on Mount Horeb, only in the 21st century. It reminds us that in the midst of all the chaos, we too can hear God’s still, small voice today, only we have to know where to look. “God is trying to get our attention every day,” White points out. “We just have to learn the language he speaks – it’s not always what we might expect.”
In the course of this book’s 13 chapters, White takes us to places where we have been taught to expect God – in the liturgy, the lives of the saints and sacred tradition and scripture. While expanding on our “listening skills” in those areas, he then points to other situations where God is also waiting to talk with us – through creation, people in need, children, family, humor, the arts, suffering and struggle and silence. He does so by telling us stories, both from his own experience or that of someone he knows, and that is one of this book’s greatest strengths. Theology can make an impression for a moment, but stories have a tendency to hang on forever.
White’s journeys, for instance, to the indigenous people of Panama known as the Embera and the relationship that developed between them as a result, opened his eyes and ears to God speaking through creation as well as through other cultures. It also made quite real for him the fact that the saints are very much involved in our lives, which we also learn when he tells of St. Theresa’s obvious eagerness to go with him on one of those trips and how that made itself known. His friend Kevin’s story actually sent a bit of a chill down my spine because it certainly sounded like a heavenly encounter during an otherwise ordinary day in Manhattan. And Robert’s story, about a little boy with ADHD in a First Communion class, who discovers his own heaven-sent gifts, is both heartwarming and uplifting.
At the end of each chapter – all of which are relatively short but thoughtful – White presents two or three reflection questions to help the reader discern how God might be speaking in that area of his or her life. Consequently, while this book is good for individual reading, it also has great potential for parishes which have or want to begin adult reading and discussion groups. Like the stories shared in this book, stories shared in such a group are equally powerful and can help everyone learn how to listen better.
Ultimately, of course, that is the purpose of this book. “So how is God speaking to you right now?” White says in his conclusion. “What is he trying to get across to you? … Be open to what you might hear, even if it’s surprising or unexpected – the life of discipleship is always an adventure. But it’s a journey with a loving Father whom you can trust. Listen to him and, in the words of Our Lady at the wedding at Cana, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5).”
Dr. Joseph White is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. He served as a parish director of faith formation for two years and then worked for seven years as director of family counseling and family life for the Diocese of Austin, Texas. He is coauthor of the “Alive in Christ” religion series and currently serves as a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.