Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hearing God In the Silence

by Terry LeBlanc

Two men met on the path of life one day, one going into the East and the other into the West. As they talked at this crossway of life they decided they might journey a while together seeking the truth of the world. They were brave men and hardy, surely a worthy task for them.

The one man was soft-spoken and, if you were to ask those from his village, he spent much of his time alone. When asked why, he simply said he was listening. The other man spent much of his time talking with the other people in his village, young and old, asking their ideas, their thoughts of the world, their experience of its profound mysteries.

As they set out on their journey together, each followed the behavior which had come to characterize their lives – the one mostly silent, observant of all that went on around him, listening and watching, admiring the sights around him; the other was a constant flow of questions – he asked the wind, the rain, the sun and stars, he spoke to the earth and shouted to the animals and birds almost without end seeking answers to his questions. Many days they journeyed together each in their own way.

The one traveler climbed to the top of the mountains – surely here he would find the truth, from the highest vantage point of life. He shouted to the wind and called upon the thunder. “What can you tell me?” he said. The other traveler lay down on the ground at the base of the mountain fascinated by the myriad of sounds which emanated from its very roots, carefully watching all the creatures which inhabited its slopes in their comings and goings. The one dove into the depths of the sea while the other lay upon its shores admiring the pattern of the waves, taking note of the creatures coming and going from its edges.

As they persisted on their journey, day-upon-day and week-upon-week, the one grew more and more agitated; the other experienced a greater peace, a deeper sense of awe. Finally, as their journey came to an end, at the very crossway at which it had begun, they parted company making their way to their homes.

Coming each to their villages, the now frustrated and extremely moody one, when asked about the truths of the world, simply shouted, “Nothing can be known! The quiet and thoughtful person upon arriving home began to speak of all that he had seen and heard, sharing all the mysteries he had witnessed. He told story-upon-story, day and night as people came from far and near to hear what he had learned. So much had he learned that he is still sharing the story of it today.

There’s a song from many years back the chorus line of which says, simply,
Silence is golden, but my eyes still seeSilence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see

When I first became a follower of the Jesus way thirty years ago, there were few things in my life that distracted me from pursuing times of solitude and quiet with God. Silence – a place and time to listen, to be open to God’s moving in my life, to see with my spirit the direction of God’s leading – was not difficult to manage. My life was relatively unencumbered and the society in which I lived was relatively slow-paced. Life was uncluttered for me. In fact, in those days, apart from the garbage under my sink, in those days, the only clutter or pollution I was aware of, or which affected my life, was chemical and the annoying coke cans and Big Mac wrappers blowing around where I liked to huntind.

Today, on top of the very real pollution we see driving the “hot flashes” of a globally warmed environment, we contend with increasing amounts of light, noise, entertainment and techno-pollution. It’s everywhere. In a world driven by ever more sophisticated and profoundly influential media technology; in the face of the and the gods of the informed life and scientific advance it is difficult to avoid its assault. It’s intrusion into the privacy of our lives is virtually inescapable. Today, even our own minds and souls seldom afford us the opportunity of quiet, of silence and solitude today. Just ask someone what solitude is and they might say something like “A game show on TV” or, the place Superman went to escape the bad guys!! Close, but no cigar!

Few places on the planet allow us Superman’s escape, certainly not from the technology we have created and the new social demands it drives! This was made powerfully obvious to me at Urbana 2006. Approximately 25,000 people seated in the stadium home of the St. Louis Rams were asked to pull out their cell phones and flip them open simultaneously – then “reach out and touch someone with a message.” The glow from the screens of the thousands of phones was nearly bright enough to read by!!!

Not surprisingly, with all of this going on around us in all other areas of our lives, As a result, we can tend to seek God in the same way – in the rush of time and the collection of sights and sounds. And, And, ststrangely enough, God uses these things to get our attention. He speaks to us in the in the frenetic sounds of the music we listen to, Hip-Hop or punk artist, the 3 second flashes of visual media, the clipped language of the text message, and the avalanche of unsolicited demands for our thought and time in the messages that burying our in-boxes, and overwhelming our minds. All too often these are messages from other voices which have the pretense of an interest in our lives but which satisfy the need for real relationship very little, if at all. Many of the messages in our in-boxes quite simply over-promise and under-deliver. The light shows and concerts of sound which God tends toward differ. God’s photonic display is more likely to be from a burning bush or constellation of stars, from a guiding star followed at a distance. God’s jam session is more likely to resemble peals of thunder or the rush of the wind, than the collapsed din of electronic traffic jams!!

In contrast to the over-promised and under-delivered messages of the techno-world, there are the words of assurance and hope found in the still and the small voice of God heard in the inner spaces of our lives. Instead of the impossibly bright future offered by successive spam scams, there is the golden ray of Christ’s hope in the examined life. In a world gone which can easily appear to have gone mad, this is Good News. This is the voice the scriptures encourage us to seek for assurance, and comfort, for direction and affirmation – a voice difficult to hear in the crush of noise and the intensity of light that so very often surrounds us.

It may not seem like much of a comparison to the low-tech world of the writers of scripture but, they also wrestled with distraction. They found the need for a place of peace and quiet in which to contemplate what was truly important. Note what the writer says in the 131st Psalm,

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

Peace and quiet attend him like a child lying in his mothers arms, secure, safe, cared-for – at peace.

When God spoke to the first followers of the Jesus Way, saying we should buy gold from him in what we now call the book of Revelation, perhaps this is one of the things he meant – buy the gold of a life which is, on occasion, perhaps even regularly, lived in silence, quieted before God – so that we might know we are secure and might truly hear the wind as God’s Spirit blows through the world.

The most fruitful times of my relationship with God have been like – silent and reflective – where I actually hear. For though he has used media to get my attention – sounds and lights all around – God has spoken most powerfully and meaningfully in the quiet of my mind and heart as I have waited for the still, small voice to speak. I have found that the whisper of God is unclear, if audible at all, in the surging of electric light and amplified sound and I do not take the time to listen.

Some years back as I was recertifying for my pilots license and needed to have a full medical including an audiogram. The technician concluded the audio testing and reported that I had above average hearing in all frequency ranges tested for. Elated with the news, I went home to tell my wife, Bev. She needed to know that her observation I frequently fid not hear her was obviously wrong. Without skipping a beat, she deflated my bubble, noting, “Hearing is not listening!!" So it is with God. Hearing God through electronic media, through its frequently garbled sounds and sights, is not at all equivalent to listening to what God is saying. Neither is reading the Word of God the same as practicing the presence of God in our lives through implementing its teachings, letting it sink into the essence of our being.

The sound byte rush of our world – a world in which I can research the electronic Word of God in a heartbeat yet not necessarily meditate on its truth in any depth in the quiet of my heart – can make it difficult for me to truly appreciate God’s voice as God speaks strength to my body and soul. The chaos of the undiscipled life can lie all around me as a result.

How can I prevail when even the architecture of our buildings and lives accommodates – no, seems to require – amplified sound, bright, flashing light stiff-necked observation of some photonic display so that I will know what to do? How can I cultivate the inner life of quiet, hearing the whole of the world in a way which elevates God’s creativity not our re-creativity? How, in a world which seems to shun any opportunity for the cultivation of solitude and private, inner serenity? Buildings, once designed for human conversation and interaction, for the practice of the presence of God in the quiet notes of the human voice are now more likely to require electronic intermediation just so that we can hear one another.

So, how do we encourage the filling of the inner person – the “God-shaped vacuum” of Pascal – with the presence of God when God speaks so quietly and our world is so loud; when the amplified world regularly make the nervous system a jangle of frayed edges, our tempers short, and our attention spans shorter! How do we press through?

For me, the sweat lodge – a tradition of prayer and fasting, of listening and seeking for many of our peoples in the Native North American community – has become a most powerful time of the re-appropriation of quiet and solitude in my life. In this place of cultural tradition, I listen and wait in anticipation for the still small voice of my Creator, Jesus Christ. Even in its darkened interior where my physical eyes serve little useful purpose, it is the one place where I can say with the author of the song,
Silence is golden, but my eyes still seeSilence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see


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