A few weeks ago, a phrase in a hymn caught my attention: “God of silence.” For a moment, the image of a Quaker meeting registered in my mind, but I couldn’t hold on to it for long. I am a Maryknoll Sister living in mission in Cambodia, and in my experience, God is LOUD.
The capital city, Phnom Penh, does not rest. Because whatever traffic laws exist are unenforceable, horns blare all day. The country is building up and the construction sounds that emanate from the buildings on three sides of me for twelve hours every day mean that in the three months I’ve been here I’ve only heard one third of any conversation I’ve ever had. Nightclubs blare music throughout the early morning hours, and because all my windows are open, I’ve let Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy-Breaky Heart” serve as my nightly lullaby. And then there is the din of voices, in the market, on the street, calling out to me, “Tuk-tuk, lady?”
I remember my novitiate, sitting alone in the chapel, trying to quiet myself, to connect with God. But as it turns out, our communion really takes place amid the noise. For while I love the God I hear in the chirping of the birds or the rustling of the leaves or the babbling of a brook, it is in the cacophony of human life that his calls get through to me, that I actually hear his voice. It is in the coughing of my neighbor in the night, the crying of the infant whose family is squatting in the building next door, the sputtering of the truck that drops off workers in the morning, and the peddlers selling their wares in the street. “Here I am,” he calls, “Listen!”
And that is why, after yet another transition to yet another local community and yet another new ministry, set in a place and space so literally foreign to me, where the threat of loneliness is all-pervasive, I can still feel the joy that propelled me here in the first place. I came here for God, to love and to serve him by serving his people. He has not left me here alone; I need only listen.
And so each night, as I conclude my prayers of gratitude for his bringing me here, I also implore of him to please be quiet for just a few hours, while I sleep.