This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

How, exactly, can I "listen" to God?

Spent aspen leaves hanging on. 

Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.

So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”   1 Sam 3
Samuel's mother, Hannah, had dedicated him to the Lord and taken him to live in the temple under the tutelage of Eli.  As the boy was sleeping, he was awakened by a voice calling his name.  Thinking it was Eli, he went woke the old man only to be told to go back to sleep.  Eventually after this was repeated a couple of times, Eli realized what was going on and told Samuel what we read above.  "Speak, for your servant is listening."  Roman Catholics often hear these words in the Mass just before the Gospel is proclaimed.

What can that possibly mean for me?  How do I listen to the Holy One?  What is it that I think I might hear?  I think it unlikely that I would somehow hear complete sentences that provided me with clear direction or understanding.  If that were to happen, I honestly think my sanity would be suspect.  People who hear disembodied voices tend to have severe emotional issues.  This only happened to me once and that was during my month long stay at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky.  I was awakened in the early morning by what I experienced as a voice saying "Do it."  Without any clear reference for "it," it made little sense.  Was this the Divine One telling me something?  But what exactly?  Was this a generalized call to "do?"  That didn't make much sense.  The only meaning I could come up with was that I should join the Trappists but that made the least sense of all for a man with seven children, four of what would become 17 grandchildren, and a large extended family.  Whatever it was, I concluded it was not the Divine One talking to me.

Some people say that God is present to them, perhaps even speaking to them, in nature or in the good acts of people or in the smiles of young children or the wisdom of the elderly.  But then what about natural disasters or the evil acts of people or the tears of abandoned children or the elderly.  And on and on.  If the Divine One speaks to us in "good and beautiful" things then how does the Divine One speaks to us in the "evil and ugly" things of life?  If the Divine One is the source of all life, as I believe, then the Divine One is in everything and thus arguably speaks to us in everything that happens including the things that are hard, difficult, ugly, unjust even despicable.  

In reading Thomas Keating, I came upon these lines in The Human Condition,
Contemplative prayer is a deepening of faith that moves beyond thoughts and concepts.  One just listens to God, open and receptive to the divine presence in one's inmost being as its source.  One listens not with a view to hearing something, but with a view to becoming aware of the obstacles to one's friendship with God. (25)
If this is true, then listening to God opens us to awareness of our own deepest sense of self with a particular emphasis on those aspects of our self which make it difficult, perhaps impossible, for us to draw close to the Divine One.  Those aspects have been summed up as our "false self" by Keating, Thomas Merton and other spiritual writers.  For me, the biggest obstacle is my need/desire to live a life of order and control, a life where I am in charge.  When things do not go my way, I can become frustrated and agitated.  These can be small things like a disorderly room, a minor car accident, being late for an appointment.  or they can be major things life death, illness, financial uncertainty.  

Perhaps we listen to the Divine One by becoming aware of those aspects of our self that keep us from experiencing life and other people on their own terms rather than on our schedule or needs.  So listening to the Divine One may be as simple and as challenging as listening deeply to myself.

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