I’ve written about quotation marks, and about the way that much of what appears to be God directly and audibly speaking in the Bible is not necessarily anything of the sort. The punctuation marks that create this appearance were not part of the original text. Those marks were invented much later, and added to the text more than 1,500 years after it was written.

Yet there are episodes in scripture in which speaking directly and audibly is precisely what God appears to be doing.

One of those episodes involves Samuel. God apparently called him by name. If this call was not a direct and audible experience, then it was something like that. Samuel got up from lying down. His reaction was to say:

“Here I am”—I Samuel 3:4.

Abraham had an experience like that. By the time of Genesis chapter 22, he had been refashioned, sculpted through the process of alternately following and failing in the way of God leading him. The moment came for him to be tested, for him to be called out into a trial, for him to receive a new and deeply challenging instruction. God said, “Abraham,” and this too must have seemed as abrupt, clear, and direct as an audible voice, because Abraham answered:

“Here I am”—Genesis 22:1.

I’ve had one experience like that. I did not hear an audible voice, but I experienced the feeling of my attention being called. It happened on a seemingly untroubled day in 2006. I was preparing to do an unremarkable chore—mow the lawn. The pull of my attention being summoned was strong enough that I stopped in response to it, and sat down. Listened. The urging of an idea that took hold of me then led me to step into a church, and ultimately to step onto a different path. I don’t remember whether my lawn got mowed that day. I came to recognize later that my old life—my old understanding of life—had come to an end. And now, here I am.