Thursday, May 31, 2007
THE VOICE OF GOD IS NEVER SILENT
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.
Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.'
The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Mary... sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching. Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!'
The Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.'
Listen, then, if you have ears!
(Psalm 19: 1-4; Psalm 37: 7; Exodus 3: 5; Job 38: 1-3; Mark 1:12-13; Romans 8:26-27 -- all RSV; Luke 10: 39-42; Matthew 11: 15 -- both GNB)
The voice of God is never silent. In every circumstance and situation God is speaking. But are we able to hear and to receive what he is offering?
We have to learn to comprehend the many languages of the Spirit. And this insight, this ability to perceive the speech that pours forth without words is itself a gift of the Spirit. It is given to those who will wait patiently upon the Lord.
Without speech, without sounds, yet through all the sound and fury of our stormy beings, and in all the dullness and emptiness, God speaks.
God speaks without words and in forms we may not at first recognise as having any meaning at all. But if we wait patiently on him, we can learn to recognise his presence and his meaning in such things as the rhythms of our lives. There he is inviting us to know new dimensions of health, activity and rest. In our relationships, in the great tapestry of the years, God speaks. God speaks, and faith learns to listen.
Paul Tillich encouraged us to think of God speaking to us from 'the darker side'. He knew this from his own experience, especially his sense of being enveloped by death while serving as a chaplain in World War I. His theological work grew out of that lifelong struggle with the darker side. Tillich spoke of the sacred void and of an absent God. But this gap is intentional, in the philosophical sense; that is, the gap has a meaning and signifies something rather than nothing.
Tillich also spoke of God being present with him at the 'needlepoint' of absolute despair. Later still he gave thanks for God's presence with him through long periods of silent unknowing.
We have since learned -- or rediscovered -- the spiritual disciplines of listening to God, speaking to us from the storm and in what someone has called 'the long littleness' of our everyday existence. God is not with us only in our moments of devotion or intense religious feeling. God is always with us. In the storm, or in the humdrum, God is there.
But what can we do when we cannot hear? Then faith takes on a different meaning for us, at least for a time. Faith then is a 'holding on' and an enduring.
When we cannot hear and cannot read the silence or the turmoil, faith persists. Faith persists, when all is perplexity and we do not even know what questions to ask, or to whom. Faith persists, till it learns the language of his silence, and the language of our silence. Faith persists, till we sense his presence and hear his voice in all the activity and all the stillness, in all the world.
Persisting, waiting, listening: these, too, are dimensions of prayer and of theology. In these times, too, we are learning the language of God.
Our spirituality should not only touch our so-called inner life -- which in any case is significantly shaped by all that we do and experience in our day-to-day affairs -- but emerge through and connect with the complex web of situations, incidents and encounters that make up our lives. It, too, should have an everyday cost to it: we should constantly be meeting God in it, not only apart from it. Through intimations, parables and dreams as well as through what we hear, read and observe, the voice of God, which as the Psalmist reminds us is never silent, should echo in our minds.
Robert Banks, All the Business of Life
The garden of our private worlds is cultivated not only when we draw apart for times of silence and solitude, but also when we begin, in that environment, to deliberately practise the discipline of listening. I have not met many who know how to listen to God. Busy people find it hard to learn how. Most Christians learned at an early age how to talk to God, but they did not learn to listen as well.
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering your Private World
It is the work of the Spirit that removes God from our sight, not only for some of us, but sometimes for many in a particular period. We live in an era in which the God we know is an absent God. But in knowing God as the absent God, we know of him; we feel his absence as the empty space that is left by something or someone that once belonged to us and has now vanished from our view. God is always infinitely near and infinitely far. We are fully aware of him only if we experience both of these aspects. But sometimes, when our awareness of him has become shallow, habitual -- not warm and not cold -when he has become too familiar to be exciting, too near to be felt in his infinite distance, then he becomes the absent God. The Spirit has not ceased to be present. The Spiritual Presence can never end. But the Spirit of God hides God from our sight.
Paul Tillich, 'Spiritual Presence'
Honest doubt is a form of faith; it is faith facing the storm, faith searching for God, even though all we sense are clouds of confusion and threatening questions. If we will not shirk it, but cling to our quest for truth, for integrity, for meaning, that in itself is a sign of faith and of hope. And God honours that. God appears. God embraces the faith of those who in honest doubt accept their plight, who face the issues, who travel right into the heart of the storm.
It is the Spirit who leads us into such a wilderness and, though Satan is there to tempt us, and the wild animals may roar about us, so too the angels are there to minister to us.
Individuals cry out for God because they remember; that memory serves both to sustain faith and at the same time to throw it into question. A lively recollection of previous mutuality and trust prevents retreat into a view that denies authentic relationship on the vertical dimensions, for humans are reminded that a bond once existed and hence may be restored at some time in the future. Here is the ultimate locus of hope which springs eternal in the human breast that is torn apart by its own agony over an apparent change in God. At the same time, here is also the source of consternation, for something has disturbed a vital relationship and everything seems to point an accusing finger at the deity.
James L. Crenshaw, A Whirlpool of Torment
You keep on asking me, 'How can I find fulfilment?'
If only I could lay my hand on your shoulder and go with you along the way. Both of us together, turning towards him who, recognised or not, is your quiet companion, someone who never imposes himself. Will you let him plant a source of refreshment deep within you? Or will you be so filled with shame that you say, 'I am not good enough to have you near me'?
What fascinates about God is his humility. He never punishes, domineers or wounds human dignity. Any authoritarian gesture on our part disfigures his face and repels. As for Christ, 'poor and humble of heart' -- he never forces anyone's hand. If he forced himself upon you, I would not be inviting you to follow him.
In the silence of the heart, tirelessly he whispers to each of us, 'Don't be afraid; I am here.'
Wait for him, even when body and spirit are dry and parched. Wait, too, with many others for an event to occur in our present day. An event which is neither marvel nor myth, nor projection of yourself. The fruit of prayerful waiting, it comes concretely in the wake of a miracle from God.
In prayer, prayer that is always poor, like lightning rending the night, you will discover the secret: you can find fulfilment only in the presence of God... and also, you will awaken others to God, first and foremost, by the life you five.
With burning patience, don't worry that you can't pray well. Surely you know that any spiritual pretension is death to the soul before you begin. Even when you cannot recognise him, will you stay dose to him in long silences when nothing seems to be happening? There, with him, life's most significant decisions take shape. There the recurring 'what's the use?' and the scepticism of the disillusioned melt away.
Tell him everything, and let him sing within you the radiant gift of life. Tell him everything, even what cannot be expressed and what is absurd. When you understand so little of his language, talk to him about it.
In your struggles, he brings a few words, an intuition or an image to your mind... And within you grows a desert flower, a flower of delight.
Brother Roger, The Wonder of a Love
Thine is what we are and have. We consecrate it to thee. Receive our thanks when we say grace, consecrating our food and with it all that we receive in our daily life. Prevent us from using empty words and forms when we give thanks to thee. Save us from routine and mere convention when we dare to speak to thee.
We thank thee when we look back at our life, be it long or short, for all we have met in it. And we thank thee not only for what we have loved and for what gave us pleasure, but also for what brought us disappointment, pain and suffering, because we now know that it helped us to fulfil that for which we were born. And if new disappointments and new suffering take hold of us and words of thanks die on our tongues, remind us that day may come when we are ready to give thanks for the dark road on which thou hast led us.
Our words of thanks are poor and often we cannot find words at all. There are days and months and years in which we were or are still unable to speak to thee. Give us the power, at such time, to keep our hearts open to the abundance of fife and, in silent gratefulness, to experience thine unchanging, eternal presence. Take the silent sacrifice of a heart when words of thanks become rare in us. Accept our silent gratefulness and keep our hearts and minds open to thee always!
Paul Tillich, 'In Everything Give Thanks'
You wait for us
until we are open to you.
We wait for your word
to make us receptive.
Attune us to your voice,
to your silence,
speak and bring your son to us –
Jesus, the word of your peace.
Your word is near,
O Lord our God,
your grace is near.
Come to us, then,
with mildness and power.
Do not let us be deaf to you,
but make us receptive and open
to Jesus Christ your son,
who will come to look for us and save us
today and every day
for ever and ever.
Huub Oosterhuis, Your Word is Near
Lord, make me receptive to your many voices, in all your languages. Teach me to listen, with my whole being and in all the business of my life.
Open my dull heart and frightened spirit to the music of your creation.
Give me the courage to go with your Spirit into the wilderness. Make me prepared to move and feel and think beyond the fringes of the familiar places, to follow you into dark and uninhabited places, to face the Tempter and dwell among the wildest elements, and there to meet with you.
Assure me that no doubt and no despair can separate me from your love. Forgive me that I imagined your presence with me depended on my believing. Help me simply to accept your grace, the gift of your mysterious, healing and transforming presence, wherever I am and whatever I may believe and feel.
Help me to wait upon your presence. In waiting help me to be compassionate with all who share the journey. Grant me the grace to be gentle with myself, and in everything to give thanks. Amen
May the mystery of his presence light your way, guide your actions and nourish your innermost being, till you find your rest in him. Amen.
Rivers in the Desert ed. Rowland Croucher pp. 98-105