“…you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Matthew 24:42
No kidding! This will sound a bit crazy, but I believe the Lord spoke to me the other day, (and in a new to me) and surprising way. I had been watching a movie – awake off & on, drowsing. It was a French film – foreign films being something I do when no one annoyed by subtitles is home. I enjoyed the movie and, thinking not much about it further, went to bed. But at 3:30 in the morning, as I was lying there trying to get back to sleep, a scene from the movie came to me with these words in my head: “I’m waiting on the other side of the wall.” Huh… I had an idea what this meant, hoped I would remember, and then went back to sleep.
The next morning I watched the movie again, this time fully awake. And yes indeed, I was meant to experience it more fully. Here, in brief, and doing it no justice at all, is the plot. A young woman pianist rents an apartment next door to a man who is an inventor. The wall between them is thin and poorly insulated. At first the woman becomes frightened, hearing an unfamiliar and unsettling voice coming through.
She tries to figure out who or what’s on the other side. She finally shouts, “I’m talking to you! You could answer!” A standoff takes place through the wall - heated discussion about who will be moving out to leave the other in peace.
After some time, they come to the mutual conclusion that neither will give in and they arrange a schedule for her practicing and his construction/tinkering. Gradually civil conversation develops. The two never actually meet in person or reveal their names. However, one day, the inventor comments that her playing is technically gifted, but lacks emotion. And he proceeds to verbally conduct her through the wall as she plays such that, for the first time, she plays freely and with deep feeling.
[You know where I’m going with this right? Sometimes I don’t hear God well – usually because he’s not welcome in my space at that moment; I have other more pressing things to do. Sometimes the message isn’t clear or what I expect to hear. But then there are times when I truly listen to what he’s telling me and it affects me deeply.]
Back to the film…
The two remain anonymous but begin to refer to each other as Whosit (the pianist) and Whatsit (the inventor).
The inventor continues to encourage her playing and they start to develop a friendly and trusting relationship, with the wall always in between.
Whosit: “You just have to not see someone and listen better.”
However, one day, after a particularly lovely exchange through the wall:
Whatsit: “Like it or not we’re in a relationship. Maybe we could see each other?”
Whosit: “I thought that maybe we could stay like this. No seeing each other. No dependence. A simple relationship. I don’t have any desire to wind up clinging to a man.…We would be together. But separately.”
[Oh yes, I keep God at arms length because if I don’t, he may ask something of me that I don’t feel ready for, or because I want to maintain my perceived freedom, my sense of control.]
And so it goes. They draw closer and closer. But as in most romantic comedies, there is a case of mistaken identity, a big fight, cruel words are spoken and a reassessment made of the situation. They cut off all contact.
This is in part due to the stress the pianist feels in preparing for a piano competition. She brings in her former piano coach – a controlling perfectionist. He berates her and harshly criticizes her display of feeling. So during the competition, she reverts to her technically perfect but rigid playing. It’s not looking good for Whosit.
[Isn’t that the way? I fall back in fear to what I am familiar with – never mind that it has never worked well and cannot make me truly happy.]
However, Whatsit finally shows up during her performance, and encourages her from back stage to play from her heart. Of course she does – beautifully - and wins!
All is not well though. Whosit is extremely disappointed that Whatsit does not wait to see her after she plays. There is no answer when she arrives at her apartment and speaks toward the wall.
Whosit: “Just what is the relationship? Who are you finally? You’re just a voice. Nothing but a voice. Which means I’m crazy, talking to myself. Maybe you don’t exist!”
Whatsit: “I do. I exist.”
[At this point I felt tears well up. How often have I felt this way, felt doubt creeping in? To hear those words out loud was very moving.]
Whosit: “Whatsit – tell me you’re there. Please tell me you’re there. I’ve so much to tell you… I know that our relationship is unique and that it’s exceptional, I really do know it… And now I so wish you were here.”
And Whatsit uses his own invention, his precious creation, to smash through the wall between them. Cue the music, the smiles, and the joyful embrace!
Dear Lord, the bottom line is that you are constantly speaking to me from the other side of the very thin wall. Always encouraging me to loosen the strings around my heart, my feelings, my joy and to cast off my fears and my inner critic. You want me to be myself and to love you, to let you in, to want you here now! You will tear down the wall if you hear me ask you to. And you have used your most precious Son to do so for all of us. Because your greatest desire is to be close to me, to make my joy complete, to give me your peace.
Dear Lord, help me to maintain interior silence and listening. Help me to be mindful and respond to your coming to me. Help me to welcome you in. Thank you for this wonderful gift!
“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” (Ps 27:8-9)
“He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet, your Teacher will not hide himself… And your ears hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:19-21)
Lynn Wells is a St. Laurence parishioner and spiritual director.