Sunday, May 20, 2007


This Holy Whisper (Thomas Kelly)

Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken.

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks with a friend.

Eli realised that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, so he said to him, 'Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, 'Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.' So Samuel went back to bed.

The Lord came and stood there, and called as he had before, 'Samuel! Samuel!'

Samuel answered, 'Speak; your servant is listening.' The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' 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... Then a voice said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'

Ears that hear and eyes that see -- the Lord has made them both.

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'

Abraham said, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'

But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets... longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. If you have ears, then hear.

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.

Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life... We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.

(Isaiah 1: 2; Exodus 33:11 -- both NIV; 1 Samuel 3: 8-10, GNB; 1 Kings 19: 11-13; Proverbs 20: 12; Isaiah 50: 4-5; Jeremiah 1:4 -5; Luke 16: 31; Matthew 13: 16-17, 43; John 5: 24; Romans 10: 17; 1 John 1: 1, 3 -- all NIV)

When I play
my records
(at full volume,
in stereo)
I have to
close all
the windows.
I can't stand
the noise
of the birds
in the trees.

Steve Turner

This satirical comment on our noisy society suggests why so many of us have difficulty praying. We become uneasy when the noise stops and fear something must be wrong. This sad reality means we are losing our ability to listen. Without the art of listening we not only lack meaningful relationships, but forget something basic about prayer. True prayer always includes a careful listening for God.

The Bible is filled with stories of God speaking to people. Prophets heard and then declared 'the word of the Lord'. That hearing came in many ways, sometimes through dramatic experiences, but often through the events of everyday life. The story of Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19) offers a striking example of the need to strain in order to hear the quiet whisper of God. In our sin we are very deaf.

Without listening there can be no true love or even companionship. Marriages fail because one or both forget to listen. It is a peculiar and superficial friendship if one constantly chatters and never listens to the other. A great test of friendship is when we can keep silence with our friends with complete enjoyment and without embarrassment of any kind. Prayer is being with God. It is commonly a higher form of fellowship simply to be quiet and to enjoy God's presence rather than that 'shopping-list' kind of speaking we often call prayer.

Learning to listen and to love God is the best preparation for listening to and loving others. Conversely, true listening to others is essential if we are to discover God speaking to us.

Our existence is meant to be dialogue. Prayer is dialogue. Life with others is designed to be dialogue, not monologue. As we hear the whisper of God coming to us from silence, we know we are loved. That whisper prompts us to 'lend our ears' to others struggling with confusion, loneliness, pain and failure. In that listening we again hear the whisper of God.

When we speak of 'listening' to God we are talking about a listening of the spirit, a tuning of our inmost being to 'hear' the word of God. By 'the word of God' I mean not only the actual written words of the scriptures, but God's message in all its manifestations. God 'speaks' to us through the scriptures, through the events in our lives, through the people we meet, through history, through nature -- through everything. But, as in ordinary physical listening, we must keep silence if we are to hear what God is saying to us.

Sheila Cassidy, Prayer for Pilgrims

Who is a prophet? Someone who is searching -- someone who is being sought. Someone who listens -- and who is listened to. Someone who sees people as they are, and as they ought to be. Someone who reflects his or her time, yet lives outside time.

A prophet is forever awake, forever alert -- never indifferent, least of all to injustice, be it human or divine, whenever or wherever it may be found. God's messenger to us, the prophet, somehow becomes our messenger to God.

Restless, disquieting, prophets are forever waiting for a signal, a summons. Asleep they hear voices and follow visions; their dreams do not belong to them.

Elie Wiesel, Five Biblical Portraits

The awful and inspiring thing about the Bible is that it enables us to hear the word which God addresses to us, and it gives us the high position of those whom God treats as responsible persons, as friends to whom he makes known his counsels. We take our place by the side of the people of the Bible with whom the living God held converse; we stand alert, responsible, listening to the word which he commits to our keeping: 'Son/daughter, stand upon your feet and I will speak with you' (Ezekiel 2: 1). Alan Richardson, Preface to Bible Study

When God speaks, he likes no other voice to break the stillness but his own... When God speaks, he speaks so loud that all the voices of the world seem dumb. And yet when God speaks, he speaks so softly that no-one hears the whisper but yourself.

Henry Drummond, The Ideal Life

Samuel's prayer was, 'Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth', but it has been said that our prayer is often, 'Hear, Lord, for thy servant speaketh.'

Denis Lant, First Steps in Prayer

There is a divine abyss within us all, a holy infinite centre, a heart, a Life who speaks in us and through us to the world. We have all heard this holy whisper at times. At times we have followed the whisper... But too many of us have heeded the Voice only at times. Only at times have we submitted to his holy guidance. We have not counted this holy thing within us to be the most precious thing in the world. We have not surrendered all else, to attend to it alone. Let me repeat. Most of us, I fear, have not surrendered all else, in order to attend to the Holy Within.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

I don't know who -- or what -- put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone -- or Something -- and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means 'not to look back', and 'to take no thought for the morrow'.

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

Most importantly, through my interviewing, I came to realise there was a great value in listening to people, a value for them, for me -- and for the audience. I knew somehow it was important for us as a community to hear of the lives and ideas of others, and I developed my gift for listening... Often I had a sense of being a listening instrument, through which people might hear something of value for them, but I did not interpret this in any religious way. Now I think the gift of listening is one of several keys to the awakening in me of conscious awareness of a religious dimension to life -- an awareness that would first plunge me into blackness and then bring me safely into the light...

There followed a number of conversations over many months with two priests separately who seemed able to discern the yearning child within the public figure. I knew that the wisdom, acceptance, gentleness and generous accessibility, the listening of these men were signs of God, were human portrayals of a loving Creator who is waiting for his children to come home to him...

I try to be mindful in my work, monitoring to see if it is building community, tapping insight, revealing inspiration. This is an act of my will and a determination to use my talents but I also listen, like a witness, to hear if it rings true to my understanding of divine will, revealed through scripture and my conscience.

Caroline Jones, The Search for Meaning

There is a real act of self-denial in every authentic experience of hearing. I am called to turn down the record that is forever playing in my head so there is silence enough for me to hear a word from beyond. It is so easy for me to project upon another a shadow out of my own past experience rather than letting that person be what he or she is in this moment, and receive in that moment a new and fresh experience,

John Claypool, The Preaching Event

If you wish to enter the world of those
who are broken or dosed in upon themselves,
it is important to learn their language.
Learning a language
is not just learning French or Spanish or German.

It is learning to understand what people are really saying,
the non-verbal as well as the verbal language.

The verbal, exterior language is the beginning
and is absolutely necessary,
but you must go deeper
and discern what it means to listen:
to listen deeply to another,
to the cry flowing from the heart,
in order to understand people,
both in their pain and in their gift;
to understand what they are truly asking
so that you can hold their wound, their pain
and all that flows from it:
violence, anger or depression,
self-centredness and limitless demands;
the suffocating urge to possess,
the refusal to let go;
to accept these with compassion,
without judging, without condemning...
If you come in this way,
open, listening humbly, without judging,
then gradually you will discover that you are trusted.

Your heart will be touched.
You will begin to discover the secret of communion.

Jean Vanier, The Broken Body

Lord let me hear, hear more and more,
Hear the sounds of great rejoicing, hear a person barely sigh,
Hear the ring of truth and hollowness of those who live a lie,
Hear the wail of starving people who will die,
Hear the voice of our Lord in the cry,

Lord let me hear.

Ross Langmead, On the Road

Lord, in this noisy world, I sometimes feel as though I am deaf. Help me to turn down that record playing in my head and again to discover silence. I remember that lovely hymn which tells me that Jesus knelt to share with you 'the silence of eternity, interpreted by love'. Help me, when earthquake, wind and fire threaten to overwhelm my senses, to hear your 'still, small voice of calm'...

Today as I pray, I want not so much to speak, but to listen... listen to you in scripture, in my loved ones, in this world, in my experiences.

And yet I know I must go out to people deafened by unceasing clamour. Help me to find space for others. Give me ears to hear what others really are crying out to me. I want to listen, not so that I can inject an answer when there is a lull in conversation, but to offer understanding and acceptance. Help me not to feel I must always speak, to know there are times when nothing has to be said but my presence is itself a needed gift.

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

A Benediction

May you have ears to hear what the Lord is saying and eyes to see what the Lord is doing. May you have a mind to learn what the Lord is teaching and a heart to love the Lord and your neighbour as yourself. Amen.

Rivers in the Desert ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 127-134

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