Led Into the TruthThe Beginnings of Listening



Silence: both a blessing and a curse, the sweet incense of a moment of tranquility, when we have succeeded in escaping the turbulence of our hectic wired lives, lives spent speaking, being spoken to, passively drinking in the invisible bytes of relentless media, franticly searching for that crucial piece of information, entertainment—anything to take our gaze away from the quiet amelioration of self-reflection.  It is in hushed moments that we appear to ourselves starkly naked and prove the true grit of our character in so many private thoughts and unobserved actions.  In these moments we are confronted with the opportunity to make a return to the primordial creative event when our ancestors walked naked in the garden, a moment when we too can be in the garden with God as we truly are, experiencing his creation and witnessing his providence in the world and in our lives, when we can be squeezed, spent and haggard, into that brief eternity when the Lord Almighty rested and “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).


But like those first fateful progenitors, we may react in two ways to this great gift of God—reactions that are ultimately a reflection of our own state of restlessness.  We can either soak up the silence, basking in the warmth of God that penetrates into our prayer and our very being as if we were breathing in the Holy Spirit with every gasp of precious air and exhaling him made better and more holy than we had been before, or we can retreat from ourselves, erecting stolid, sharp, impenetrable structures within which we can hide, distracted by our memories, preoccupied with our desires, obfuscating the clarity of the vision of God that can only be fully accomplished in the precious meditations of the tranquil heart. 


Purged of distraction and rejecting the human will to be something, content rather to simply be, we hear the voice of God and find within ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit giving us the courage to reply: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!” (1 Sam 3:10).  This is the essential beginning of a vocation: one’s willingness to be open to horizons beyond the wildest possibilities of man—first to be, and then to be the very something the Lord desires.  A vocation is a supernatural calling; it is no mean thing.  It is nothing less than the manifestation of the will of God in a particular time and place for the accomplishment of the Kingdom of Christ in the person of an individual, and the only disposition for one who would accept this calling is to listen for it, to “keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18), and to follow without reservation. 


The Lord’s voice is a wondrous thing: 


The voice of the Lord is powerful,

     and the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,

The voice of the Lord flashes like flames of fire,

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness,

The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl,

     and strips forests bare;

More in Led Into the Truth

     and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps 29:3-5a,7,8a,9)


 The voice of the Lord speaking to us is truly powerful, but tragically we so fill our lives with noise that even a voice with the power to bind and loose, to create and destroy, is blocked from penetrating into the lush garden that is the human soul, the very place where the Lord wishes most to walk in harmony with his creation. 


It is precisely in these times—the times of harried and frenzied activity that swirls and grows until we are almost overcome in a vertigo of near collapse from stress, when our inexplicable lust to do more and more crescendos to a feverish pitch—that we must set ourselves apart, get away, and recover that primordial silence in which the thunder of the voice of God can once again be heard.  In these moments, we can hear the revelatory explosions of his incommensurate love and his lofty desire to incorporate us into him completely, to wash away our guilt, to give us a life of greatness, and to call us his children—if only we would let him!  Silence is the necessary precondition for listening, and listening is precisely what we must to do—what guarantees our mode of cooperation with God.


In seminary, as in all of life, it is always at the times when it seems practically impossible to take time to retreat into silence that it is most important to do so.  Silence is the medium for exploring one’s vocation.  Without silence, without retreats, without quiet meditation, without pausing to breathe in the sweet fragrance of God’s love which surrounds us and envelops our souls, we simply cannot enjoy our surest happiness, that happiness given by a loving Father to all who are willing to be led into the truth, all who are willing to follow his voice.

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Elijah went up on the mountain of the Lord, and “the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice;” this was the voice of the Lord, heard only once Elijah had intentionally focused, despite the storms and distractions, on this smallest of sounds (1 Kg 19: 11-12). 


I wonder if the Lord is speaking to me in a thunderous whisper?  I wonder if he is just waiting for me to clear away the detritus of my technological and self-complicated life?  I wonder if God really speaks to anyone?  If he really calls anyone by name?  If he really has anything to say at all?  My answer can only be found in silence.

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