listening

_MG_4028

I’m listening
flowers in the garden
laughter in the hall
children in the park
I will not take these things for granted
anymore

to crawl inside the wire and feel something near me
to feel this accepting
that it is lonely here, but not alone
and on the telephone
you offer visions dancing

I’m listening
music in the bedroom
laughter in the hall
dive into the ocean
singing by the fire
running through the forest
and standing in the wind
in rolling canyons

I will not take these things for granted

-toad the wet sprocket, in the song ‘I will not take these things for granted’

enlightenment

“Enlightenment is not about knowing as much as it is about unknowing; it is not so much learning as unlearning. It is more about entering a vast mystery than arriving at a mental certitude. Enlightenment knows that grace is everywhere, and the only reasonable response is a grateful heart and the acknowledgment that there is more depth and meaning to everything.”

-Richard Rohr

listening

I have this wonderful friend who has been a spiritual mentor to me for many years. She listens well, responds with love, and challenges me to stretch the boundaries of my understanding of God. Usually, our conversations go like this:

Me: [blathers on and on about my personal life at that particular moment in time]

She: [offers words of comfort, gentleness, and compassion. And then…] “Have you talked to God about this?”

Its funny how this works. Having known her for some time, I can predict that she will say this, yet it always causes me to take a step back and re-focus my awareness. Usually, when the question is posed by her, the truth is I haven’t “talked to God” about it. And if my friend isn’t sitting right next to me asking the question directly, and my thoughts distract me, and those pesky self-critical thoughts begin repeating, and my heart can not seem to find a peaceful place, I’ve miraculously begun to ask myself the same question.

Have I talked to God?

What does this question really mean?

I tend to think that all of my random thoughts are directed at God. As if God is just one big listening machine, and my thoughts go in, and God hears every word. Of course, in this scenario, God knows what I am trying to say at every moment. Most days, this is what I think of as talking to God. When I actually sit down and attempt to quiet my mind, I talk to God in a much different way. Dear God, help me to understand. Dear God, help me to respond with compassion. Dear God, bless this day for my daughter (or husband, or friend). Dear God, enlighten my path. Dear God, teach me to pray. Dear God, shower me with grace.

And then I try to listen. Listening for God, though, invariably creates some tension in my heart. Where do I find the voice of God? Sometimes during prayer, I feel as if God directs me to a particular scripture passage or a spiritual reading, and I am thankful for the ways in which it sheds light on the situation. Most days, this does not happen.

And so I pray, Dear God, teach me to listen, to recognize, and to know your voice.

I invite you to do the same.

 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
–John 10:5

seeking water

Today the first reading is from Isaiah chapter 41:

“When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the Lord of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.”

Water is such a powerful spiritual image. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well in the gospel of John, the image of a tiered fountain overflowing in the writings of spiritual masters like Origen and St Teresa of Avila, or even the image of God being as vast as the sea. What is it about water that connects us to God?

I remember once, sitting on the beach at Lake Michigan. We had rented a little cottage within walking distance to the beach, and every morning I would take my bible and go walk in the sand. Eventually, I’d find a spot to sit, and I would read some scripture passage, let it soak into my mind, and pray. I remember one particular morning filled with grace. The wind was completely still, and I sat looking at the water, the early morning sun warming my back. I was able to set my bible down in the sand, open to the passage, without the pages blowing or ruffling in the least. My gaze would rest momentarily on the early morning fishermen on the water, the gulls so far off, hovering above the still water, or the tiny grains of sand that surrounded my feet. When my eyes returned to the scripture, my bible was still open to the same page.

That day on the beach, my thirst for God was quenched. I found God in the grains of sand, in God’s creatures, in the simple act of contemplating a passage of scripture. I’d like to say that God showed up for me that day. But I think the opposite is true. I showed up for God, who is always present. I showed up, waiting, a receptacle for the grace. And God filled me with awareness, peace, and a thirst for more.