Voices in the wilderness
Editors Note: This is part of a series I wrote three years ago. Enjoy.
Friday after Ash Wednesday / February 27, 2009
Lake Charles, Louisiana in a bayou
Lent always begins by inviting us to go into our own wilderness experience with Jesus. Mine began this morning (Friday.)
I slept well but almost crashed my 65-year-old bones onto the floor, not used to a single bed. I spent time with my Lord as usual this morning. The harp sound on my iphone at 3:33 sounded like it was echoing in a cathedral; I was very hungry about 5 AM, had some cheese and eggs, resonated deeply with an awesome reflection by St. John Chrysostom on prayer, and rested deeply on the Word as I am accustomed.
(The ancient process of Lectio Divina has one savor the sacred text, phrase by phrase, listen to whatever the Spirit wants to say to you in particular and then rest in the word; literally, to fall asleep and let God do his work in you below the level of your consciousness. Indeed, that is how one changes. We surrender to God’s grace and let him do the work of transformation and purification on a very deep level at the core of our being. Thus, if we let go and surrender, if we listen in the silence, the process of transformation becomes easy for us.
I was awakened by the sound of birds greeting the early morning, though the sun had decided not to appear behind the misty clouds that are still now streaming across the sky. My ears were very attuned to the bird-song, actually a little quartet of four distinct species. I wish I would listen to nature’s sounds more often!
With an 8 oz foam cup of too-strong coffee, I headed down into the cypress swamp. My mood became quite depressed at the site of decay, of long-dead stumps. (I don’t find this bayou very inspiring; there’s death and decay everywhere, but also I can see tiny buds on the cypress when I looked closely. I became aware of the stillness. And thought of what Jesus must have experienced in that other kind of wilderness, the desert. This morning I am attentive to every sound, the sounds of silence, the voices of the wilderness:
The bees busy on one of the few flowering plants /The squeaky hinge on the gate that invites one to be open to a watery-wilderness experience / The stirring of the trees in the wind / hounds barking a mile away / a train whistle in the distance / my breath as it enters and exits my nostrils/ my pulse against my neck/ the hoot of an owl in the wood next to the bayou / the crack of a twig as I walk / the rustle of leaves underfoot along the bank of the Calisceau.
And when I got back to the retreat center, a quadrangle of yellow brick corridors around a stark empty courtyard with one tulip tree already budding in one corner, there are the voices of the bass and treble wind chimes and the Angelus bell! Oh, how long it’s been since I’ve said the Angelus! Every town and village in the Middle Ages rang out the Angelus bells morning, noon and night. That was a part of Catholic life long forgotten now.
The message of the wilderness for us is exactly that: to tune us into the sounds, the voices in our lives. Each of us are bombarded with so many sounds, conflicting /confusing / crashing sounds that make it difficult for us to hear the soft voices that bear the messages from afar or the cries of a hurting inner-child within.
Jesus went into the desert to sort out those voices. The harsh voices of the world that tempted him to not even realize that there was a Soft Voice behind and beneath them that would be the Voice he chose to listen to and respond all his short life.
So, we too, have to learn how to silence the Harsh Voices that still inhabit our soul that prompt us to hate ourselves, demean ourselves, do destructive things so that we can hear the Soft Voices, the gentle voices that affirm and nourish us.
In the desert Jesus discovered that there was one still Soft Voice that he loved to hear, the Voice that he learned to call Abba / Father. Jesus is calling his God: Daddy!
Now that’s the message of the desert, the wilderness experience: to learn how to listen deeply. But that’ a major problem for us. Most of us are so uncomfortable with silence that we get very nervous and anxious when we’re by ourselves. Some people have to have some “white noise” the hum of a fan or refrigerator in order to sleep. There is very little silence in our world today. And that means God is left out of our lives because silence is the language God speaks.
And so bring some silence into your Lent each day. If you can’t find any place more creative – for you guys, the garage, close the bathroom door, put the lid down on the john, turn the water to submerge the blast of the TV in the den. Try to do this every day until Easter. You might at first be fearful of the voices you hear, the voices that emerge from within, the voice of your conscience. But realize Jesus did exactly the same thing in the wilderness.
Lenten is about listening. Open the ears of your mind and heart. Don’t be afraid. You will enter the wilderness – the wild-ness – within you. But you will also find yourself and your inner strength, the real you and the Other who loves you and has been there all the time though you knew it not.
I’ll write more whenever Father Don allows me to. Right now, I’m going to go back to the swamp, which is a wilderness experience I don’t like; it’s quite depressing, let alone inspiring. And those damned mosquitoes! I much preferred the wilderness of the desert experience I had exactly a year ago in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.
The Jesus I know and love is the One who had the courage to silence the conflicting harsh voices of the world and his own ego to hear and love and respond to the voice of his heavenly Father. He is beckoning me to do that once again here on this retreat.
I will write again soon. I am eager to share more about the Jesus I know and love but Don says now is not the time!