The Good Shepherd’s Voice and Other Valuable Lessons From an Elevator

Paul Simon with Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Photo: ILPO MUSTO)

I have a confession to make. This has been on my mind for probably 35 years and today, I’m going to get this off my chest.

In the 1980s, I worked in the Hancock Tower in Boston. They have renovated it since then and so it looks quite different on the inside now, but back then, it was all glass and very highly polished and reflective chrome… everywhere. Walking through there, it was as though you were in a fun house hall of mirrors. I worked on the 45th floor and so it was a long ride up, especially when there were many stops to let people in and out along the way. On one particular day, the last person got out the the elevator and I was all alone with probably some ten or fifteen floors left to go until the 45th floor. Observing myself in the mirrored interior, I decided to sing. Loudly. Very loudly. The song was Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” from his fantastic “Graceland” album. At the beginning of that song, there is an intro sung by an African band called Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They sing in the language of Zulu. Please note that I cannot speak Zulu. But that did not stop me from singing those Zulu lyrics very clearly, very loudly, and with a great deal of dramatic zeal. Suddenly and surprisingly, the elevator dinged as it approached a floor below 45. Then, a woman who had been standing behind me the entire time and who I did not notice moved in front of me and exited. She could not contain her laughter as she rushed out to get away from this weird, creepy guy singing Zulu in the elevator.

There, I got that off my chest. Phew…

I once read that architects and interior designers often use mirrors on the doors of elevators, inside and out, because they know that people will stare at themselves in the mirror and report shorter wait times. In other words, the elevators don’t come any quicker, but if we’re looking at ourselves, we won’t notice the delay.

It seems as though it’s a part of our nature to to notice ourselves. To pay attention to our personal situation. To focus on… us. To a certain extent, we need to. It’s an important part of our survival instinct and we require that for self preservation. That said, it’s easy to become quite focused on ourselves. So much so that we lose track of everything else, like when we’re waiting for an elevator or loudly sing Zulu without realizing that we’re not actually alone.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus states that the sheep will follow their shepherd by the sound of his voice. They didn’t likely brand livestock back then the way that we do now so the sheep knew who their shepherd was by the sound of his voice and the shepherd knew which sheep where his by the ones who followed his voice.

What is Jesus telling us here?

I think, like the sheep, we are to follow… but in order to do so, we have to listen to his voice.

We often talk from up here at the pulpit about all of the many distractions we face from our culture. We are bombarded by external stimuli to the point of exhaustion… but sometimes, we can be bombarded by internal stimuli to the point of distraction, or insensitivity, indifference, disregard, detachment. Self-orientation can lead to selfishness and when that happens, we can lose sight of others, of their needs… and then, it becomes easier to miss our Good Shepherd’s voice.

Jesus, as that Good Shepherd, gave us a model to follow. In this Easter season, we only need to remember back to the lesson of the Last Supper when he washed his disciples feet or on Good Friday when he hung upon a cross and stated: “Forgive them, for the know not what they do.” So much about this Good Shepherd was about other-orientation that I believe that one of the best ways for us to hear his voice is to consider the needs of others. To be aware of those around us. To do all the things Jesus taught us about love, forgiveness, prayer, service, and sacrifice.

Love, forgiveness, prayer, service, and sacrifice. This is how we listen. This is how we will hear his voice. And this is how he will know we are his.


    • Thanks, Karen. During Mass I actually played a clip of the song… and that was also fun. I certainly didn’t dare sing it. Learned that lesson years ago.


  1. I’ll be laughing for sometime with the picture of you singing in that elevator 🤣That aside hearing the voice of God and following  –  powerful 😊Thanks!Sent from my Galaxy


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