Alexa? Siri? God?
Let anyone with ears listen!
--Matthew 11:15 NRSV
You know Siri, right? Siri is the voice-activated supposedly artificial
intelligence on an Iphone. I’ve never had much luck with her, so I keep my
questions simple, such as:
What time is the Chiefs game on?
What was the date of the Treaty of Versailles?
What is the name of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer can’t sleep
because of a Kenny Rogers’ Roasters sign?
Siri doesn’t provide good answers to more complicated questions, at least
not to me.
Last Christmas, we gave my younger son an Amazon Echo with its artificial
intelligence named Alexa. I routinely hear him commanding Alexa to do all
sorts of stuff. Alexa seems smarter than Siri or maybe it’s just me. (I’ve
always suspected Siri didn’t want much to do with me and only begrudgingly
responded to me.)
Since I bought the Echo, each week I receive an email of new things I or
rather my son can ask Alexa--new music to listen to, new jokes and stories
for her to tell, new recipes to share and so on. Plus, both of my sons
routinely discover new and usually ridiculous things to ask Siri and Alexa
in order to get some weird response from their disembodied voices. Between
the three of us the voices of Siri and Alexa are pretty common in our house.
Today, when I received my email of new things to ask Alexa, it occurred to
me that I may be speaking to Siri and Alexa more than I’m praying to God.
Even more disturbing, I wonder if I’m bothering to listen for God at all
even though I’m always expecting an answer from Siri and Alexa.
Of course, it is easier to hear the answers of Siri and Alexa than it is to
hear the voice of God. I’ve known a number of folks who claimed to hear the
voice of God regularly. Some of them were mentally ill, others were merely
listening to the echoes of their own egos, but some of them were perfectly
sane and seemed to have a sort of hotline to God I lack. For me, listening
for God has almost always been a struggle. Perhaps God knows that I’m the
kind of person who only accepts answers to the deep questions of life after
I have gone a few rounds in the ring with them. I may wish God would provide
easy and quick answers like Alexa and Siri, but I suspect God doesn’t work
that way with me because the journey to an answer is at least as important
as the answer itself.
Frederick Buechner’s description of listening for God’s voice has always
appealed to me because it matches my own experience. In his book Now and
Then, he writes:
BECAUSE THE WORD that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word—a word
spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in
events, even in the books we read and the movies we see—the chances are we
will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear
and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard
to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our
ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and
honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however
faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however
little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable
and precious beyond telling. In that sense autobiography becomes a way of
praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a
call to prayer.
If you are one of those folks for whom God’s voice is heard quickly and
easily, keep on listening and responding to that voice. If you are like me
and struggle to hear the Divine speech, don’t give up. If you never hear
from God at all and doubt if there is a God who speaks, give it a try. After
all, listening for the voice of God can’t make you any more silly-looking
than when you are talking with Siri and Alexa.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.