Holy Whispers

I love hearing whispers—secrets for my ears only, messages so extraordinary they cannot be spoken out loud. I love the whispers I have heard in my life that I could not explain, like God-whispers coming on the wind of the Spirit from a place too holy to define.

I heard that kind of holy whisper, softly calling my name, in an unusual time and in an unlikely place. I was twelve years old, a little lost girl whose heart was shattered by abusive life circumstances, but still full of stirrings and longings (a likely candidate for hearing holy whispers). I was one hundred percent a Greek girl, raised by immigrant parents and an inescapably obtrusive Greek yiayiá (grandmother). Being a Greek girl through and through means you are all-in religiously, spiritually, and socially. And yes, I have attended hundreds of “big fat Greek weddings,” including my own! In a Baptist church!

I should explain the holy whisper I heard sixty years ago. I still remember it as if it were yesterday. It happened on an afternoon while I was in my Greek Orthodox Church’s Greek School. That’s when you ride the bus to the church every afternoon after American school and stay there until 6:00 p.m. Every weekday, Monday through Friday. And the purpose of Greek School? Well, Greek School’s “divine” purpose is to teach Greek children how to read, write, and speak Greek as if they had just stepped off a boat from the old country.

At least we had recess! Everyone would run from the schoolroom to play kickball in the church yard. Not me, though, I walked past the kickball game to the church door. I opened the huge wooden doors and reverently walked in, making the sign of the cross, lighting a candle in the vestibule, and heading to a pew in front of a daunting life-sized icon of St. Michael the Archangel. I sat for a few minutes, taking in the sacred aroma of burning candles and incense. It was so completely silent that the only sound I heard was my own breath. Until the whisper!

From nowhere and everywhere I heard it, not audibly like a real voice but deeply in my spirit. How can a voice be so clear and unmistakable when it doesn’t come from a real person’s vocal cords? How could I hear an almost silent whisper? I could not answer the questions that formed in my mind, but I could clearly hear and understand the whisper I heard in my soul.

She whispered one word: Kalliope, the name given to me at birth and affirmed in the waters of holy baptism where folks say I screamed the entire holy time. Kalliope! I don’t know how a twelve-year-old would interpret that, but I believed at the time that this female voice was a Spirit whisper from God, who called my name as if it were a sacred word in the Divine Liturgy.

To buy all of this, one has to understand that I had always been a religious little girl. With my yiayiá’s constant tutelage, I memorized the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, a variety of Scripture passages about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, plus Yiayiá’s entire repertoire of poetry—in Greek. To prove the devotion to church and the ethnicity of a Greek family, the children, especially the firstborn child, were expected to recite for company. We dutifully recited it all—prayers, creeds, poems, and long passages of Scripture—and with a good attitude. Not insignificant was the painful reality that Yiayiá forced me to recite all of these memorized offerings every time company came over. Every time! All in Greek.

As for the holy whisper. I understood it years later as God’s first call on my life. As a twelve-year-old, I had no idea what it meant. Yet I knew with complete certainty that the holy whisper that called out Kalliope meant I had just been named God’s beloved daughter. As the years passed, I would more fully understand that holy whisper as a call to embark on a journey led by Spirit winds to places near and far, to people who needed to hear whispers of their own. The first line of a beautiful hymn speaks to me about the meaning and mystery of calling: “God is calling through the whisper of the Spirit’s deepest sighs.” How well the hymn describes what I experienced!

The post originally appeared in the Introduction of When God Whispered My Name: Stories of Journey Told by Baptist Women Called to Ministry.

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