This past Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37) lured me into thinking about being deaf to certain sounds, select voices and deeper versus higher-pitched tones. Granted the person Jesus met in the Gospel story was physically deaf, but many of us practice a kind of deafness in our everyday lives. Some people name it “selective hearing,” i.e. hearing certain things and being deaf to others.
Moms and dads apply selective hearing when they are tuned in to the slightest noises coming from a newborn baby sleeping in another room or when they catch the sound of coughing from a sick child during the night. Students often hear what they need to do to pass a test and don’t hear what to do for homework that night. In the busy-ness of everyday lives and with all the noise of the world around us, we almost have to have selective hearing in order to survive in it.
The same listening qualities that alert parents to possible danger for their children are true for our selective hearing when it comes to hearing God’s voice. You might rightly say, “God’s voice isn’t a human voice one would hear in a normal way.” That’s true. God’s “voice” makes a unique “sound,” an echo that resonates in our hearts, is heard by our inner ears, if you will. This is why our listening and paying close attention is so key. May we quiet ourselves enough today to hear God’s voice within us. May we allow its message to move us.
Blessings as we listen,
Most of us probably wouldn’t think about embarking on something important without any planning and, perhaps, talking with another person who had already done what we’re going to do.
If we needed to learn a complex computer program for a job and everything depended on us having details correct, we’d seek advice from others who know the program or from a supervisor or IT person.
The same is true when we’re embarking on a spiritual journey. If we seriously want to commit ourselves to learning how to listen to God, how to pray or how to understand Scripture better, we can seek out others who have gone on this journey before us.
The person could be a friend or might be a “spiritual director” or “spiritual companion.” These titles cover a select set of men and women who have studied how the spiritual life develops. They are aware of the stages of spiritual growth that can be expected and what it takes to commit oneself to this kind of an inner journey.
Their well-honed skills in listening can help us develop our own abilities to listen, while helping us grow in our relationship with God. When sensing a desire to deepen our spiritual life, finding a spiritual director can be invaluable. Most retreat centers have people who specialize in this service. Some parishes have them as well. It can be a key decision we make to nurture our spiritual growth.
Blessings on the journey,
The other day I began wondering where we get our creative ideas. I realized they come from everywhere when we’re open to noticing them. They come disguised in an off-hand comment, a favorite song, failed attempts at things that are important to us and from feeling unsatisfied or restless in our desire for more in life.
Because these creative nudges arrive in varied and unpredictable ways, it’s vital to stay alert for their presence. Nudges show up in our dreams and rambling thoughts. They can be sparked during an argument with friends or parents. Nudges provide precious insights and can launch valuable searching times in our lives.
Nudges can become as familiar as friends, because ultimately they can put us in touch with our best selves and persist as we deepen our relationship with ourselves and with God. Just as God can communicate with us through questions, God also offers nudges that get our attention and urge us to think about our lives. When we’re noticing, we don’t miss the chance to listen for what God has in mind for us!
Carolyn sat on a cushioned bench with both hands embracing a cup and stared blankly out the coffee shop window. A steady stream of people entered and left the shop as she continued quietly entertaining questions rambling around within her. She could see no clear answers, just silence that opened after each of them.
The questions began shadowing her after she attended a lecture during her five-year college reunion six weeks ago. It wasn’t the topic of the lecture that nagged at her, but the sense of purpose she noticed in the speaker. The woman was dynamic, but there was something else. She was passionate about the research she was doing and the people she had met during their interviews. Carolyn believed this professor was really making a difference in peoples’ lives. It made Carolyn wonder why she wasn’t feeling that way about her own career.
Her questions about her future had come fast and furiously since then: “What am I passionate about? What do I want to do that would make a difference in others’ lives? I do want to contribute to making this world better, but how can I do that?”
These and more now wandered inside her as the coffee shop first filled and then emptied most of the afternoon.
Questions of the kind Carolyn pondered can signal change that’s edging its way into our thoughts. Answering them for ourselves is vital to our happiness in life and our own sense of purpose. God’s call often comes through questioning.
Christine Valters Paintner, in her book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, says, “Discernment is essentially a way of listening to our lives and the world around us and responding to the invitations that call us into deeper alignment with our soul’s deep desires and the desires God has for us.”*
With that description in mind, how do we enter that space of quiet where the “way of listening” she mentions is possible? Once we slow down and stop for awhile, our thoughts don’t necessarily stop with us. They keep going and we can count on multiple distractions invading that space! They might sound like: “I’ve got to get going.” “I can’t just sit here like this!” “I have things to do.” “This is a waste of time; nothing’s happening!”
Try sitting in a chair, feet on the floor, hands resting comfortably in your lap and begin breathing slowly, in and out. Count the breaths if that helps. Count them while focusing your attention on each breath until you begin to notice your breathing gradually slows more and more. This intentional quieting each day, even for ten minutes at a time, will begin to develop a pattern in our thoughts. We will start to notice something different is happening. Our thoughts will take their cue from our breathing and also slow down.
Thoughts will never be totally erased from our quiet time. But being intentional about taking time everyday to become familiar with this sacred space within will set the stage for our best and deepest listening to God’s voice within.
*Excerpted from The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred by Christine Valters Paintner. Copyright 2018 by Ave Maria Press, P.O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Used with permission of the publisher.
Unless I make a conscious choice to stop on our back porch on my way in or out of the house, I do not see the tiny yellow blossoms and smaller green tomato orbs on the vine or the young pea pods among the plant’s leaves and tentacles. Even in my widow-box veggie garden, Nature has her way of protecting – even hiding – the fruits of growth until they’re ready to be picked. I’m amazed how long it takes me some days, to even find the pods and tomatoes – once I stop. Remembering my impatience with the plants and their leaves for hiding their fruit from my eyes makes me smile now!
Only gradually and with persistent hunting could I notice the pods and orbs that I’d missed on my previous searches. The harvest time may not be here yet, but I do hope to experience it eventually. Right-timing is everything!
Discernment in our lives shares some of these characteristics. It’s vital to stop and step away from our normal daily routines so we can notice what may be surfacing in our lives. Constant busy-ness leaves little space to take that closer look and notice God’s call in our lives.
Sporadic times of reflection may not be enough to provide the kind of stopping and noticing needed to hear and see God’s hints at our life purpose. Just as the leaves and tendrils of the peas eventually intertwine in a jumbled green ball, our discernment of God’s call mixes with many other possibilities and these take time to sort through. Giving the time for stepping away carries a reward. Trust that the results of looking, noticing and listening will bring us its bounty and insights.
While I was having lunch at Chilli’s with a few visiting Australian friends, they surprised me by commenting, “I get tired of how many choices you Americans have, even when you go out to eat!”
I’d never considered this, of course, because I’m so used to being asked, “Do you want that toasted or plain and on what kind of bread?” “Paper or plastic?” My friends weren’t used to so much decision-making just to have a simple meal, so they felt overwhelmed.
We can experience that same sense that it’s all too much when considering the important life question, “Where is God calling me?” Many young people are fortunate in having a solid education and /or successful work experience, so the possibilities for the future are plentiful. At first glance this seems like a good thing. And it is – until you have to choose.
When we make a choice for something good for our life’s purpose, it also means letting go of other good things – a dilemma for sure! This is also why it can take longer than we’d like to decide which way to go in life, what choice to make.
Wisdom tells us each letting go of a good choice makes another one possible. Since we cannot be totally sure the good choice we’re making is the right one, reality elbows in to remind us that there’s risk involved in choosing. The risk is worth it, however, if it results in peace of mind and an inner sense of rightness. Both are indicators that this choice is your response to God’s call.
One of the most challenging virtues for us to practice is patience. Another is trust. As we try to learn what God calls us to in our lives, we need a helpful dose of each.
Think of what it’s like to wait at a red light or stand in line at the store. If you’ve ever planted a vegetable garden and were eager to see what the carrots, beets, or potatoes looked like, you know what patience is needed. Recall how you feel when waiting for an important social or sporting event you’re going to attend. Whether you’re feeling patient or impatient, the waiting line moves as it does and you take your turn. The time for the events arrives. The vegetables come up fully formed or not. It’s our experience of waiting for that anticipated moment that stays with us.
Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, penned a poem entitled “Trust in the Slow Work of God.” As the title implies, be patient and trust that God is with us all the way through the process of listening for what our call is, what God would have us do with our lives.
Most of us do not have a brilliant, clear, and memorable announcement by an angel as Mary, the mother of Jesus, had. Most of us need to develop our heart-skill of patiently listening for God during our times of prayer or in conversations with a spiritual director or in the words of our friends who say aloud words that echo inside us and confirm where God is calling.
Let’s actively engage with God, embracing our patience and trust, listening to learn what we can.
Standing at the ATM machine the other day, I had to first recall my security code and then be careful when I entered the numbers so they weren’t visible to anyone who might have been standing behind me. It dawned on me that we can learn a few things from ATMs that help us interact with God in prayer, too. Whether we sit or kneel or stand before God asking to understand what we’re called to do with our lives, we want to be as mindful of the environment around us as we are when entering our security codes at the bank.
Our willingness to quiet ourselves inside and be open to listening to whatever message God has for us creates an atmosphere where God can speak. In our hearts we can ask with the psalmist in Psalm 25, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” The musician David Haas created a mantra with this line to assist us in easily moving into that quiet, listening space within.
When we practice this quieting regularly, it’s as easy as going to the ATM. And when we leave this quiet space, we often find we have much more than cash – and these gifts are also available 24/7!
Carmel Boyle, a popular Irish vocalist, has recorded the song “My Soul’s Desire”, an engaging and foot-tapping melody designed to get us thinking deeply about what we are looking for in life. No, that’s not entirely true. The words of the song ask what you desire and what you think God desires too!
Many spiritual writers have told us that one clue to what God is asking of us – calling us toward – is found in our deep desires, our heart’s desires, or as Ms. Boyle puts it, our “soul’s desire”.
One of the ways to discover what my soul desires can be spending time in quiet, the kind of inner quiet that allows me to really focus and listen deeply for my heart’s response. Pay attention to what you long for, what it is you’re passionate about, what brings you joy and hope. In these longer summer days of light, may you make the time for this kind of quiet and ready yourself to listen for your soul’s desire.
Blessings as you listen,
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
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Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!