Marrett and I went on retreat this weekend, to a beautiful place called Wellsprings Farm. As we settled into our hermitage, we began the retreat with meditation. For me, meditation is about clearing my mind so that I can hear the voice of God, and I haven’t been doing much of it lately.
I tried to tell myself I was praying in other ways, and listening through other practices like daily devotional time and spiritual direction. But when I finally sat still for a few minutes, I felt the lie in those excuses. Though I hadn’t stopped talking to God, which is the easier part of prayer, I’ve been avoiding listening. Because I am afraid. As if what God has to say is a fearsome thing, I resist settling into quietness where God’s voice my choose to make itself heard.
And honestly, God’s voice is sometimes to be feared. More than once, God has called me to go where I didn’t want, to address some lurking sin I’d rather ignore. Sometimes though, God speaks a word of freedom, relieves the burden of anxiety I’ve been hauling, reminding me how deeply I’m loved. God’s voice is always tender, even in rebuke.
Most importantly, God’s voice speaks truth into my clouded heart, like a shaft of light piercing a fog and illumining the right. It clears away even that mess which I hold so tightly it feels beloved, to reveal what is truly important. It is clarity in a life of competing claims. It is a portable peace in a world that surrounds me with pain and anger. It is love that rescues me from the crush of rejection and the threat of hopelessness.
But I never know quite what God’s going to say. When I finally stop making noise, will God speak what I’ve been longing to hear? Or will God show me the brink of a new creation, which for all its goodness still means loss. Or will God simply sit with me in loving silence?
I never know. And when I suspect it might be the middle option, I avoid listening. Because I’m afraid. I feel unreasonable to fear God’s voice, but then again, every messenger o God’s word in scripture begins “do not be afraid.” Oh that my heart were so easily commanded!
For now I will try to quiet myself before my Beloved. I will sit with the fear. Either it will dissipate in the light of God’s presence, or it will grow larger in response to God’s next call. As Phil Cousineau says in his book The Art of Pilgrimage, “ancient wisdom suggests if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred, it isn’t the real thing.”