Telling our own story is a great challenge sometimes. Listening for God’s story that intersects our lives can be even more challenging. One of the hopes we share in spiritual direction is to develop the practice of listening for the authentic presence of the Holy One in our lives. The noise fields around us fill so much air space with spurious claims of speaking for God that it can be hard to know how to listen for a Word as the seekers did when they traveled to meet the Desert Ammas and Abbas so long ago.
How can we learn to listen for what God’s story is and how it is unfolding?
In the aftermath of last week’s trauma in Colorado, there have been too many shrill voices claiming to speak for God. My own longing was for silence, enough silence to allow God’s voice to be heard in me and in the community. I remembered Elijah in I Kings 19, so traumatized by his encounter with the prophets of Baal that he could not discern where the Holy One was, until in the sound of sheer silence God speaks. The poignant book by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall, The Other Way to Listen, relates a story of a young boy learning to listen to the sound of the Earth; the boy tries:
But nothing worked. I thought there must be something wrong with me because I only heard wind and quail and coyotes and doves–just things that anyone could hear. I almost gave up trying…I thought that since they would not sing to me, I’d just sing to them instead. All I know is suddenly I wasn’t the only one singing. The hills were singing too. I stopped. I didn’t move for maybe an hour. I never listened so hard in my life.
So as I sit with my guests in spiritual direction, we practice listening for the God story as it weaves itself into out particular lives, into the lives of the community and the broken world. And we prime the silence with singing–the notes of our imprinting traditions of faith, the rhythms from sacred texts, the harmonies of our past experiences, until we hear the Holy One speak or we recognize an intimation of Holy Presence.
These past days we have known the God story in the grief and sorrow outpoured across the nation for all the damaged ones: those who lost their lives, those who are still in critical care, the beloved ones whose lives are unalterable changed, and the broken psyche and soul of the one who is the alleged perpetrator and his family. God also has been present in the chorus of generous and willing hands and feet minds and hearts of care givers and public servants. Echoes of the Holy have been heard for those who have wisely called for justice and mercy working hand in hand.
Taking time for silence in our cultures of social media and warp speed is counter-intuitive. Yet in the sacred space of spiritual direction, we find that in quietness and confidence as we wait, the God story emerges in us and for us, and shows us when and where to act for God’s sake in the world. Little Samuel in I Samuel was taught by the prophet Eli to face the unknown and incomprehensible with the words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (I Sam 3:9) In a post-Aurora world, this is and must be our prayer for ourselves, for our faith communities, for our nation and the world.
Patheos blogger Elizabeth Nordquist writes today about a response of sacred silence to the traumas we encounter in the world.