Listening is key component in the spiritual life
Has anyone ever criticized you about the speed of your walk? More than one person has pointed out to me that the pace of my walk is quite swift. When I walk, I just walk. I don’t think about it; just one foot and then the other. Right foot, left foot…what’s the big deal?
Well, it’s a big deal to my wife Sara. We’ve been married 38 years (come this December), and all this time when we’ve walked together, we did just that: walked side by side. That is, until recently.
Not long ago I noticed that I was constantly about eight feet in front of her whenever we walked. I would have to stop and allow her to catch up with me. She’s in fine physical shape, so the issue was not one of physical disability. I was puzzled and sometimes impatient. When I made note of this to her, she replied: “All these years I’ve walked faster than my normal speed in order to keep up with you. I’m tired of that. You can change for me.”
Well, let me tell you, doing so is easier said than done. I have to consciously consider my steps. After 60-years of walking unconsciously at my normal pace, I now have to think about my walking pace. What a pain!
The spiritual life is a lot like that. First of all, we have to be conscious of our spiritual life. That may sound obvious, but frequently it is not. One of the enemies of a true spiritual life is that it can become routine. I do this, I say that, I reflect on something. Ok, done…are the Bears on, yet?
Second, we need to understand that our spiritual life is ultimately not about us, it’s about God. We don’t do this, say that, or reflect on something in a vacuum. Our spiritual life is for someone – God - and we must remember that the spiritual life is not the end itself, God is. Likewise, my marriage is not just about me. Just as I alter my walking speed for the sake of my wife and marriage, so I perhaps alter my piety in order to follow where God wants to lead me. Perhaps my prayers need tweaking. Maybe I need to pray at different hours in different ways.
Which leads me to the final point…making such changes in your prayer life may chafe at your regular routine, but if so, you have to ask yourself: why are you praying in the first place? Is it for you or for God? The point is, there are times when the spiritual life is painful.
I said above that my adjusting my walking pace was a pain. Of course, such an adjustment is not a physical pain. It’s not like I’ve stubbed my toe or collapsed with leg cramps. My adjusting my walking pace, rather, is simply bothersome. However, if my wife, who for all these years, bothered herself to adjust to my walking pace, shouldn’t I be willing to reciprocate? Similarly, shouldn’t we perhaps adjust our spiritual life for God, who desires nothing more than to draw us into God’s self? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you must or should change your piety. What I am saying is, are you attuned to God in order to sense that God might be calling you to be with him in another way?
Back in late June I was at the Benedictine monastery of St. John’s up in Collegeville, Minn. While there I bought this black T-shirt (black, good Benedictine color!) that has the word “Listen” in white bold letters. Above the word “Listen” was the phrase, “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions” and below the word was the phrase, “and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
That entire phrase is the first sentence from the Rule of St. Benedict. The key word in the phrase is “listen;” hence, the word being in white bold lettering on the T-shirt.
In the spiritual life, listening is the key component. Prayer is not so much about the words we say or the gestures we make or the postures we assume (though they play an important role for sure). Prayer is, at its core, listening; listening to the voice of God. More often than not that voice of God is, as Elijah discovered, a whisper (1 Kgs 19:12). You’ve got to listen carefully to hear a whisper.
Just like a husband must listen to his wife.