Eleanor Longden started hearing voices in her second term studying psychology at the University of Leeds. Initially, a single speaker flatly narrated the normal things she happened to be doing:
“She is going to a lecture.”
“She is leaving the building.”
The voice was not threatening or especially intrusive. She got accustomed to it and even began to find it oddly comforting. As a result of childhood trauma, Longden was an anxious, unhappy teen. The calm, matter-of-fact tone of the voice reminded her that she was getting life done pretty well despite her inner struggles.
Eventually, she hypothesized that there was a connection between the voice and her emotions. Putting that hypothesis to work, she made some progress sorting through her issues. Excited by her discovery, she shared what was happening with a friend.
Certain that Eleanor was mentally ill, her friend urged her to seek medical treatment. When she did, things took a very bad turn.
Longden’s psychiatrist considered her voices to be meaningless internal chatter. She should ignore them unless and until treatment could eradicate them. Now labeled with a diagnosis, Longden found herself professionally discredited by the psychiatric and academic universe. Sadly, she not only discounted her voices but also came to doubt her own inherent worth.
After about a decade, she came under the care of a new clinician who led her to pursue a different approach to voice-hearing. It is true that hearing voices can be one of the symptoms of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. For some, these voices can be violent and intrusive. Medical intervention is necessary and helpful in such cases.
But, as it turns out, many healthy people hear voices. There is a spectrum, a continuum between healthy and unhealthy. There is not a hard and fast line between sane and insane when it comes to voice-hearing. Longden is now an acclaimed mental health professional. She has pioneered urging clients in the healthy part of the spectrum to interpret the truth conveyed by their voices.
In an interview with The Guardian, Longden explained that she learned to “see my voices as meaningful…. I began to understand the voices … in a more compassionate way. Not as symptoms, rather as adaptations and survival strategies: sane reactions to insane circumstances.”
Longden’s story—and her insights about voice-hearing—echoed in my mind as I read Jesus’ words to his friends. “The sheep follow [the shepherd] because they know his voice.” (John 10:4b) And I remembered what Karl Rahner predicted. If there are going to be any Christians in the future, they will be mystics. We will hear the voice of the risen Christ for ourselves.
Before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus promised his friends—and promised us—that he would maintain and even deepen his relationship with us in the Spirit of Truth. (John 16:13) The Spirit would walk with us just like Jesus walked with his disciples in Galilee. Only, the relationship would be even more intimate.
I believe that the philosopher and sociologist Hartmut Rosa’s concept of resonance help convey what it’s like to be led by the Spirit of Truth. He says that resonance has four characteristics: being affected, self-efficacy, adaptive transformation, and uncontrollability.
Here’s a brief outline of those characteristics:
Being Affected: Resonance begins with being “reached, touched or moved” inwardly by something beyond ourselves. Something “calls to us.” We feel addressed.
Self-efficacy: The Other’s touch does not cause us to react involuntarily. The response we make is intentional. It’s like feeling someone else’s gaze on us and deciding to return that person’s gaze.
Adaptive Transformation: Our encounter with the other shapes our inner life. Who we are—our sense of self—is evolving as a function of this relationship.
Uncontrollability: Finally, resonance is not an event that we can initiate or conjure up. It’s not an achievement that we could strive to attain. It’s a gift that is given to us unlooked for.
Our challenge is to discern the voice of the Spirit amid all the voices shouting to get our attention. Cable, social media, podcasts, and news apps dump information on us whose reliability can be suspect. Inside our own souls we have to contend with competing impulses, desires, anxieties, fears, and half-baked notions.
Here’s one key to discernment that I think is reliable. Remember that Jesus summarized the Law. Love God with all you’ve got. Heart, mind, will, soul, and body. And love your neighbor as if your own life depended on it. Like you share a single circulatory system.
When you’re listening to any voice, ask this question. Is this consistent with the Summary of the Law?
If a voice urges you to make something less than God your highest good—something like wealth or power or status—then that’s not the Spirit of Truth. And if any voice tells you to dismiss the value of anybody else, it’s not Jesus talking.
My fond hope is that you will hear a voice. And that you will hear it saying in no uncertain terms, “I love you. Now go do likewise.”
Eleanor Longden, “The Voices in My Head” TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head/discussion
 Hartmut Rosa, The Uncontrollability of the World, pp. 33-37