The United Church of Christ has a great slogan that is posted on many of their churches throughout the country: “God is Still Speaking.” I love this saying first of all because it is so evidently true, and secondly because it reminds me of all the competing voices in my own head and heart that compete with God’s voice. The voice of our North American culture, the voice of my white maleness, the voice of my middle classness, the voice of my educated status, the voice of my politics, the voice of my personal history and experience….all of these voices make it hard to distinguish one from the other. They also make it challenging to really listen to the voice of God when so many other voices are fighting for dominance. It doesn’t help that the messages of the various voices are so diverse and often competing with each other! So, believing as I do that God is speaking to me on an ongoing basis, how do I block out the competition so I can really listen to God?
It’s not as daunting a task as I once feared because when I examine the many voices clamoring for attention, there is really only one voice that tries to communicate the truth in all its simple complexity. Only one voice consistently leaves me feeling hopeful for tomorrow. Only one encourages me and invites me to push the boundaries of my faith to new frontiers. The conflicting feelings and attitudes I carry are caused by lesser voices, and it seems the older I get, the more vocal these other voices want to become. Some of my voices, such as the doubter or the second-guesser, sometimes shout so loudly that they can temporarily drown out God’s voice. But that is transient. The voice of God continues to beckon, invite and support my highest good.
I am always looking forward to the future, even when my faith in my own ability to succeed as a pastor wavers. It is then I find relief in focusing on the true inner voice of God, connecting with it by releasing my fears, staying focused and listening on the deepest level accessible to me. For me, meditation occasionally works to sift through the voices, but even more helpful is the recitation of the rosary or the Jesus Prayer. The spiritually immature are quick to recommend specific panaceas to everyone, regardless of the individual’s own prayer vocation. This is silly and will only prove to be fruitless. If I am not, for example, the kind of person called to meditate, then I am wasting my time trying to fit my round spirituality into a square hole as it were. Far better and more helpful for me to learn what kind of praying really works for me instead–odds are, if it works for me, that is a clue to my prayer vocation. We will still hear the many voices within clamoring for their day in court, but armed with the kind of praying we are called to engage in, instead of the ones others think we ought to engage in, we will find the capacity to sift through the many in order to find the One. God is not the author of confusion or frustration; God is never here to rub my face in past mistakes. Knowing these things upfront helps me to pay closer attention to God’s authentic voice.
The more I listen to and believe in what God is speaking to me, it seems the louder and clearer God’s voice becomes. And the more I don’t actively engage in “fighting” the other voices, the easier it is to simply notice them and gently set them aside. By simply acknowledging that the lesser voices exist and resisting the urge to argue them away, I find it’s easier to ignore them and be more open to what God is trying to teach me in a given moment. By finding and strengthening my ability to perceive and really listen to the voice of God, I regain balance, maintain inner peace, and foster a gentler outlook on life.
I hope that this little reflection is of some use to you, dear reader. As always, I hold each of you in prayer and hope for your highest good.