Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Entering In: second bead

Open my ears, that I might hear your voice in whatever form it takes -- especially those I might rather not hear.

Continuing the process of "entering in" to the time of prayer I ask that my ears might be open. The e. e. cummings poem I referred to yesterday -- "i thank You God for most this amazing" -- ends with the lines: "(now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened)." This is what I think of when I pray "open my eyes" and "open my ears."

And it isn't quite right to say that I am asking that my eyes and ears be opened as there really isn't a someone of whom I am asking this. (At least not in the sense those words are usually used.) This "God" to whom I am praying is not exatly Other but not exactly Self, either -- I'm not really talking to another person but I'm not really just talking to myself. So I'm asking for my eyes and ears to be opened and I'm stating my intention that my eyes and ears be opened; there's a merging of active and passive voice here that makes little linguistic sense but makes perfect mystical sense. (Remember Augustine's si comprihendis non es deus -- "if you understand it, it's not God.")

So the second of the "entering beads" -- as I do the practice -- is an invitation to open my ears to the "voice" of the sacred "in whatever form it takes." Remember the television show Joan or Arcardia in which Amber Tamblyn played a teenager who kept seeing God in different forms -- a teenage boy, a little girl, an elderly woman, a security guard, a homeless man . . . God kept showing up in different forms in part because God had no one form of his/her own. Likewise, metaphorically speaking, God has no single voice and, so, all things are potentially the voice of God.

A person is at the end of her or his rope, in the depths of despair. He sits on a little hill, the sun baking down on him, feeling that his soul is as dried out and parched as the ground on which he sits. "I can't go on," he cries, and just then a little breeze kicks in and his spirit feels just the littlest bit revived. Who is to say that that breeze wasn't the voice of God answering his prayer of despair? The twitter of birds, the laughter of children, the tears of a loved one, the anger of friends . . . each of these could be a much needed message, a "voice" as it were telling us what we most need to hear. (If, that is, the ears of our ears are open to hear it. How often is Jesus remembered as saying, "Those who have ears, let them hear."?)

I remember leading a books study when the book Everyday Spiritual Practice came out. At one point one of the members was having something of a crisis of faith -- he was struggling with a newly (re)discovered sense that maybe there was some kind of Higher Power in some kind of control of the universe, an idea he'd long ago abandoned. Driving home from the group one night he found his thoughts tumbling around and around one central question, "Who is in control of the universe?" To take his mind off this existential wrestling he turned on his radio and started surfing through the dial. From the first station he landed on, the first clear sounds were the words, unmistakable, "I am in charge!" (It turns out he'd landed on a Christian station.) He had to pull off to the side of the road to compose himself. Was this a message? A coincidence? (Some say that a coincidence is God's way or remaining anonymous.)

With this bead I remind myself that I have a lot to learn and that there are opportunities to learn -- teachers -- literally all around me. The folks at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, with whom I studied spiritual guidance, say that prayer is not so much about us talking to God as it is about us learning to become quiet enough to listen to what God has to say. "Open my ears that I may hear your voice in whatever form it takes."

One more thing, though. I'm not always going to like what I hear. This is one of the dangers in much modern spirituality -- the "take what you want and leave the rest" mentality that is so prevalant today while in some ways a really good thing is also potentially a prescription for a shallow spiritual life. There are some hard truths that I must face too, if I am going to grow, and each day, with this bead, I remind myself to be open to them as well.

'till Friday.

In Gassho,

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