One of the toughest disciplines for any person is to actively engage the art of listening without planning our own next statement, without already judging the merits of the other, without thinking about what we will be doing next. Another description of this kind of listening is prayer. True prayer does not send the Divine a shopping list of demands or pleas. True prayer opens the soul for the indwelling of the Holy One, an ecstatic and terrifying experience.
True prayer requires an honesty and a willingness to reveal our deep selves to ourselves so that God can be present in our inner dialogue. And then we need to listen to the voice within because the true voice from within says, “It’s going to be all right. You are all right. You are okay. Now I have a task for you. And I know you can do it.”
For us to hear each other, we need to know that we have been seen by God in all our beauty and our brokenness. And then we are ready to hear each other in love, with mercy and with understanding. And then we can safely turn to the world with our wounds that are being healed and hear the needs that swirl around us in every community and around the globe.
This transfers to how we make decisions in the church. Are we listening to each other or just to our own voice in our head, demanding our way, our security. Prayerful decision making hears the other without prejudice, with open hearts and minds. Prayerful participation in a congregation is an act of humility, of service, of discipleship. It requires that the needs of the moment centre on the world outside our buildings. To be faithful disciples, we must be willing to give everything away so that we can engage the works of love.
Being a disciple means making sacrifice and commitment our life work. By sacrifice, I mean a willingness to offer our pride, our traditions, our assets to further the good news in word and in action. If it doesn’t pinch a bit, we are holding back. God calls Samuel many times before Samuel can openly say, “I am listening” which really means. “What do you ask of me?”
Paul talks about us as clay jars, creatures made to hold the astonishing gift of Light and Spirit. Clay jars are easily broken and cast aside but the content of these jars is only released, not destroyed with the jar. Lately I have noticed obituaries that speak about how a person used their life to serve. I think we are remembering that that is how a healthy world works.
Rupert Sheldrake, the biologist, talks about sacrifice as essential to life on earth, The difference for us as humans is that we are invited to choose our paths, choose what we mean when we say in prayer, “Speak for I am listening.” What will we do with what we hear? What will we do when God asks us to stretch the wings of our faith to learn something new, to engage in new work, to become new people? If we really mean to say, “Here I am!” are we prepared to accept the challenge we will be offered? Or will we find a tradition or a piece of scripture, or our age or circumstance to refuse the call we hear in our hearts? When a member of the social justice network dies, people often say after their name, “Presenté” which says that this person has offered their lives, been present to share the works of love.
Wouldn’t it be amazing for people to say that about the church in general, that we are present, physically financially, prayerfully, with hearts containing both joy and struggle. Let these clay jars contain the curiosity of Samuel, the courage of the prophets, and the love of Christ, meant to be broken so that Light and spirit can be revealed and the world can be born again.