Overheard by the soul

Jeff planted this three-season “bloom again” azalea less than a year before he died.
In the warmth of October 2018, its fall blooms whisper a reminder of undying beauty.

And we dance
to a whispered voice
overheard by the soul
undertook by the heart.
You may know it…
Neil Diamond

There’s an intriguing story in the first book of Kings, in the Old Testament. The prophet Elijah was fleeing for his life, because the queen, Jezebel, had sworn to kill him. It was no idle threat; she had already put many of Elijah’s fellow prophets to death. At one point, Elijah became so exhausted and discouraged that he prayed to God that he might die, but that prayer was answered with an angelic delivery of food and water, and a command to eat and drink to replenish his strength for a long journey.

Forty days later, God told Elijah to go to the mountain where God would pass before him. At this point, it’s easier, and more poetic, just to quote directly from the story– in this case, the New International Version:

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 

I’m sure you know, or have guessed, that God came to Elijah not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper.  In the King James Version of the story, the translators used the term “a still, small voice,” which is the origin of that popular phrase.

I’ve thought of that story many times in the past five years or so, through the storms of our lives, in which I could not hear the voice of God despite clinging to the promise that God would be there for us. To the extent that I have felt a sense of God’s presence, it has been in the form of the whispered voice; a still, small reassurance that my soul can only occasionally overhear in the quiet of solitude.

The whispers, of course, are not literal sounds. But sometimes they are remembered echoes. Sometimes they are the unexpected discovery of a startlingly relevant message in a note written many years ago. Sometimes they rise from a photograph, or from a sunlit morning seen through a familiar window, or from the bloom of a botanical gift lovingly planted by one who would not live to see its growth.

As Neil Diamond suggested in the beautiful song linked above (which I hope you will take the time to experience), overhearing the whispered voice is only part of the experience. It must be undertaken by the heart, if we are to understand what we are hearing. There’s quite a trick to dancing to a whispered voice, when you think about it. The beat doesn’t come from a musical instrument, but from the heart.  But what a dance it is.



  1. I expect there will be more than five comments on this one – it is particularly well written.

    • Thank you Eric, I’m glad you liked this one.

      • Sheila

        Good morning, Julia and Eric. I’m remembering the fun we were having with our comments, back and worth, many years ago. Mr. Carlyle even joined in, really special!

        • Thank you, Sheila. I miss Daddy so much. His presence in so much of my life, including here, was a joy.

        • I am a few days late, replying to your “good morning,” Sheila. You certainly make my morning today, as you address happy times. (you were even tolerant of my musings regarding the mysteries of earth’s moon). Jeff’s funeral was my one best chance to meet you in person, but it coincided with my wife’s gall bladder surgery:- regrets from many angles. I wish everyone could have a friend like you!

          • Sheila

            Good Monday morning, Eric. I’m so happy that I came back to read more comments here, several days later. Jeff’s service was beautiful and so fitting for such an accomplished life! We were honored to be in the presence of so many wonderful family members. We would have been delighted to meet you, as well. Thank you for your kind words. Don’t be a stranger! 💛 Your friend, Sheila

  2. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia. The gift of the flower, to bloom for you in the years ahead, was so thoughtful and so reflective of Jeff and his love for you! 🌸🌸What that means to you, personally, has been shared here so beautifully. Thank you so much for this post that is perfect for this day. I loved the Neil Diamond song and the fitting photos that accompany it! You are in my thoughts so much, every day. Love and hugs to you and Matt! 💛🍂🍁🙏🏻

    • Thank you, Sheila. Isn’t that a great song? All the music from Jonathan Livingston Seagull was beautiful. That is my favorite of Neil Diamond’s albums. I am happy you liked the post. You are often in my thoughts as well. We’re sending love and hugs right back to you! ❤

      • Sheila

        Julia, I have a new little songbird that appeared several days ago! Of course, I think he is a MESSENGER from Wally! 🌈🐥💛( Juia)

        • Sheila, I think so too! Juia will forever be Walter’s special name for me. ❤

          • Sheila

            He was such a part of my world (sorry, our world) and the only explanation for that first comment “Juia” was certainly his way of making himself known. 🐥💛 Makes me smile!

            • Gone from our sight, at least in a literal sense, but never forgotten! 💔

  3. Janet Sawyer

    Love this on so many levels.

    • Thank you, Janet. It’s always a pleasure to see you here! ❤

  4. Oh Julia, what beautiful writing today. It touched me. I pray you will hear that still small voice always. I keep you and Matt in my heart and prayers. Love to you both! The temps dropped from 89° to 40° overnight so I am making chicken and dumplings! 😍

    • Thank you, Cherie. Don’t you love it when the weather cools off enough to make cooking fun again? Let’s keep listening for the still small voice. It is full of love and light. ❤

  5. kjyaccino

    Absolutely lovely, Julia.

    • Thank you, Kathy. ❤

  6. MaryAnn Clontz

    THANK YOU! Julia! Listened twice to this marvelous song! The lyrics are deep! The video starts with my favorite place: ocean then ends in another view of it; with fantastic scenes of other beauty created by our Heavenly Father for us to enjoy. Praising His Name!
    Sunday morning, Paul read about Elijah, Baal & Jezebel in: “Unshakable Hope” by Max Lucado. Max refers to the dancing like you do!!! At worship, same lesson was preached, with the focus on the “wind, shattered rocks, earthquake, fire AND the whisper”. Love “the still, small voice”! How powerful for me to hear this in triplicate! Your words are soothing & encouraging & energizing!
    Never ceases to amaze me the multiple talents Jeff used to glorify his Lord! These flowers look real enough to imagine their scent is looming in the room!
    Much love to you & my Matt!

    • MaryAnn Clontz

      Oh! My, your message is replaying in my mind & heart! As it is rolling around in my head, I realized I misspelled a word or was “attacked” by auto-correct. Please correct: triplet to triplicate.

      • Done! But I think it was fine either way.

    • Mary Ann, how remarkable that you heard several takes on the same basic message. It’s almost like some sort of divine highlighter covering everything in electric yellow so it will stand out. 😀 Yes, Jeff was a multi-talented man, but the most remarkable thing about him was his willingness to serve even in areas that would not have been his first choice. That azalea struggled somewhat during the hot months so I was happy and relieved to see how well it bloomed in autumn. Ditto for the dogwood tree that he and I planted together in late 2014.

  7. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    I’m awed again at how you can bring to life your innermost expressions. Very nice!
    Keep clinging to the promise, even when you can’t hear His voice. He is here; and you will see Him through those who journey with you still. And may you continue to discern the still, small voice during your reflections. Peace and grace!

    • Thank you, Chris. Some days it is easier than others, but on the tough days, I have learned to remind myself that my mood (if nothing else) will get better if I just hang on. I appreciate your presence here.

      • Harry Sims

        As I began writing daily thank you notes to God and sharing some of what I was experiencing I would re-read them with a sense of wonder and declare to myself — “Wow, where did that come from?”
        Bet’cha you have too!

        • Harry, whenever I come upon old writings– mine, in desultory journals, or other people’s, in letters and cards– I am surprised at how much it brings back to me, and also at our capacity to forget even those things that are very significant to us. I always resolve, at such times, to journal more of everyday life if only for my own eyes. But as with other good intentions, I seldom deliver. Words, like photographs, can help us recall both good and bad times. And yes, I often think, “Did I really write that? I don’t remember it!” 😀 But there it is, in my own unmistakable sloppy print (I never write in cursive).

  8. Julia, Love the post. Because it is inspired by love. The passage you chose rang a bell within me. Go to my blog, August 2014 archive, and read “On A Gentle Breeze.” It is my take on the same passage.
    Stay well my friend,
    p.s. You were the first to grace me with your following.

    • Wow, Alan, this is like a walk down memory lane. I think I first found your blog when I was searching for stories on Don Quixote and found your post on the impossible dream. Thanks for telling me about this post. I didn’t know (or possibly didn’t remember) you had written on the same passage. I guess great minds think alike, hee-hee. Or maybe it’s more that The Great Mind inspires all sorts of us. Thanks for being here!

  9. Good morning, Julia!
    I wondered if you ever suspected Jeff of having planted the mystery star-gazer lily?
    Your re-framing of this thought was inspiring: “There’s quite a trick to dancing to a whispered voice, when you think about it. The beat doesn’t come from a musical instrument, but from the heart. But what a dance it is.”
    I’m resting here, and meditating on this thought. I want it to “stick,” so that I can take it with me through my days and nights.
    Bless you, that you keep listening for that whisper, and keep on dancing! Thank you.

    • Good morning, Susan! I doubt that Jeff planted the Stargazer lily. He was a shrub-and-tree guy, and he left the bulbs and annuals and smaller plantings to me. If he had been willing to plant bulbs, my entire yard might now be covered in daffodils, hee-hee 😀 . But, the shrubs and trees are gifts that keep on giving, large and flowering and providing year after year of delight, with almost no maintenance. Sort of like Jeff himself, so it makes sense he preferred those substantial contributions. But he was always very appreciative of all the things I planted too. It’s a bit harder to get motivated to do that– or anything, for that matter– without him here to cheer me on.

      But speaking of the whispered voice, I had a nice surprise one recent morning in York County. I think I had mentioned that we have lost hardly any of our leaves yet. However, a few days ago when I opened the garage door to go out and do some work, I saw this amazing creation of the winds working on what few leaves had fallen. Usually they blow into piles alongside the walls of the house, but for some reason this is how they formed that morning. There was scarcely another leaf on the entire driveway. I didn’t touch any of the leaves or change anything in any way, only ran in to get my camera. Perhaps I am too superstitious, but I did indeed feel “cheered on” that morning by a whispered voice. It still makes me smile to think of it.

  10. Mike

    Savannah where to begin? Really still processing,but nothing like this on the West coast where history dates for us caucasians to like 1856 and the creation of Washington Territory. So I did make it to Bonaventure cemetery , but did not get to see “Bird Girl” statuary as she is now in the Comptus museum here as there were so many visitors there after the Movie “In the Garden of Good and Evil” which I will have to watch again, that the family moved her out. There are only four copies of this masterpiece in existence, yet the plaster mold is still extant. Anyway where to being–. I did see the “Little Gracie” gravesight and also the the grave of William Mercer -great grandfather of song writer Johnnie Mercer. Also birthhouse of Flannery Oconnor and gravesite of Conrad Aiken. The Colonial cemetery was also an amazing place- with 650 markers and around 9000 persons under the ground- so if you have a relative there- how would you know? The gravitas of the place with the vaulted graves. A marker to the 700 persons buried there after yellow fever epidemic of 1822? I read a while back an interesting book about that epidemic and the terrible horror. People had no idea what was causing the fever(mosquitoes) and thought it was due to stagnant -water,which in a way it was.
    And I did not know that in Treasure Island they brought the treasure map to Savannah and hid it there. So I have to revisit that place in time. Hope to go again. Oglethorpe knew what he was doing when he laid out the grid with the 24 squares. Nice to have a grid. And they have a nice little free-trolley systme that will take you around town for the trouble. Savannah where to begin?

    • Well, it definitely sounds like a place worth visiting. Jeff and I had always hoped to go someday. Maybe I will get there eventually.

  11. Mike

    Not familiar with this song by Neal. What was the name.? Don’t know if I told mylittle brother Mark who plays drums is in a Neal Diamond tribute band. Billy Martin Review(sp?). They play in and around Sea-Tac area. May have some stuff on U tube. Fun to watch, but don’t know the song in question.

    • Mike, the song is called “Be” and it’s from the album Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which was written for the film of the same title based on the book of the same title. I like a lot of Neil Diamond’s music, but I think the soundtrack to Seagull is my favorite of all his music. The song “Skybird” is one of the happiest pieces of music I know.

  12. Mike

    OK Skybird it is. Last night in my son’s neighborhood taking a walk, I saw some kind of a cherry tree? in full bloom. Cherry trees blooming in October?

    • Mike, maybe it was a crape myrtle. Some of them have light pink blooms. My crape myrtles just quit blooming recently.

  13. Mike

    Your new place looks awesome. We are thinking about a trip from Norfolk where Verie’s nephew is by train to NYC. That would be fun I think to pull into Penn station as in the days of old. Beautiful fall colors. Hope to take a trip toward Helen and see some of those also..Colors that is.

    • It would be great if you and Verie could come to Virginia! If you are in Norfolk, you could come to visit our York home (about a 45 minute drive away, depending on what part of Norfolk you leave from and how much traffic you it at the bridge tunnel — or you could get off at Hampton if the train stops there, and be very close by). I’m not sure how the Amtrak routes go, but if they stop at Quantico you would be near our new NoVa home. I haven’t seen Penn Station since it was re-done in the 1990’s, but on my first trip to NYC way back in the early 1970’s, we stayed at the Statler Hilton, right across from Madison Square Garden and right at Penn Station. I’ve never ridden the east coast trains but we really enjoyed riding Amtrak on the west coast.

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