Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Gift of Listening

(Photo by Susanne Barrett)

A repost from the archives.....

There are times I can't hear--not a single thing.

I feel the confusion rising, like bile in my throat, burning. My mind is muddled, drowning, flailing desperate arms through the noise.

I feel the deep need to unearth that quiet center, that listening place, where ears can open and mind can slip from its numbing frustration, and I can hear once again.

I wrote a poem in February that confesses this need. I include the middle of the poem here:

the present
shimmers, shakes,
demanding my attention:
the volume requires reply.

but I run--
escaping boundaries of my present,
of home--
boxed in by walls
and clamoring needs.
I slam the door behind me.

but I can't run far--
only to porch steps
bepuddled by morning's rain.
chill winds grasp my face--
I gulp the shifting of cloud
into cramped lungs.
But sometimes I need to run farther than the front porch, the need to clear head and spirit, to unplug listening ears and actually hear overwhelms.

When I, ever so rarely, have a day to myself, I run to the San Diego Mission de Alcala--the first church in California. Founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra, it's the first of the famous California missions. The adobe church is open to the public seven days a week, and although tourists wander through quite often, long stretches of sacred silence fill the high-ceilinged building.

I sit in a wooden pew, cocking my head to the side as songbirds in the garden outside the ancient double doors trill up and down the scale as if rehearsing for a concert. If I strain my long-plugged ears, I can barely make out the echoes of children's recess laughter from the school on the mission grounds.

But mostly I listen to the silence, allowing it to fill me, flushing out the confusion and the building despair that come with the hurry-scurry of modern life. My prayer book falls open to the Venite, and I allow His Word to fill my mind, to gently whisper into the silence where it can truly be heard:
Venite, Exultemus Domino (from Psalms 95 and 96)
O COME, let us sing unto the LORD; * let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; * and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God; * and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God; * and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth; * and with righteousness to judge the world, and the peoples with his truth.
I don't know when or how it happened, but I am on my knees "before the Lord our Maker," the vinyl-covered kneeler almost comfortable beneath my painful joints.

But now I can truly listen.

What is it about the physical position of kneeling that opens ears and minds and hearts to Him? That allows us to finally hear that "still, small voice" that so easily eludes us in our busy daily lives? I feel His presence warming me, from head to the very tips of my toes, to the very ends of my fingers. He floods through me, and the bracken of worry, fear, busyness, frustration, confusion--all this breaks away from the choking hold upon my soul--now tumbling down, spiraling away, through the white-waters of His Spirit. All is flushed away--the bottlenecks freed through the sheer power of Grace.

And once the flood calms, the waters receding to flow within usual banks, I draw a deep breath, then two. My lungs expand easily, the former constriction washed away. My mind is cleared of the detritus of living this wonderful, crazy, hectic life of mine--all aspects of who I am, what I do, able to flow gently side by side rather than damming up and blocking the flow of His life-giving waters.

My eyes open. The candles before me flicker in the easy breeze that wafts through open side doors, bringing me the scent of jasmine. Everything around me appears the same, yet I am seeing my surroundings with refreshed eyes, hearing all with renewed ears.

I close eyes and pray, hearing more than His Word in my mind as He speaks through printed pages directly to my depths.

This sacred space--the white walls wafted with decades of incense, the fourteen Stations dark against them, the rows of deep wooden pews, the choir loft risen above the high door--fades, and He is all that is Real.

At last I pull myself to my feet, joints stiffened with kneeling, and, pausing to dip fingers into the fount mounted beside the door, I touch His cleansing to my mind, my heart, my strength. Because that's how I am to love Him--how I pray I will love Him. And more so each day.

The gardens outside the door are awash in noon sunshine. The roses seem brighter, their fragrance spicier, headier, than before. The distant bells tolls clearer, even closer, than before. The green of cala lilies past their bloom and lacy ferns seems greener, more verdant, the bougainvilleas a deeper fuchsia, the geraniums a brighter crimson than before. The sun glints against the white walls of the garden, gleams and glimmers on the ancient bells in the tower, the noon-ish light more shimmery than before.

How can a simple kneeling change light and sound and seeing?

It changes everything.

He changes everything.

In an instant.

Walking with Him and with you this Wednesday--always listening,

holy experience


paper roads said...

beautifully written :-)

Susanne Barrett said...

Thank you, Sarah.... :)


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