January 10, 2020
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness. But he would withdraw to lonely places and pray. ~ Luke 5:15-16
Prayer brings love alive among us. ~ Henri Nouwen
What a lovely and terrifying world we live in.
This week I enjoyed warm walks up Road 41. A few birds always soared overhead, the cows looked up from grazing as if to say hello, and I shared mutual waves with passersby as we wished one another well. At some point, when I walk, my heartbeat matches the cadence of my stride, and the world seems to be in rhythm. I am thankful for those moments of peace.
Like many of you, on Wednesday I turned on the television to the horrific pictures of extremists overrunning the U.S. Capitol building while waving the Confederate flag alongside the American flag. Some even wore shirts with sick references to the death camps in Nazi Germany. Is this really happening in our country, I thought?
The Southern Poverty Law Center said, “We are consumed by growing violence from hate groups and extremists, recklessly and outrageously incited by a president who refuses to disavow white nationalism.” Prior to Wednesday’s mob violence, Georgia elected to the United States Senate the Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. held the pulpit. Warnock is very human (broken), but he speaks and lives the language of faith. “I’ve spent my life and my ministry trying to fight for people without a voice,” he said. What fascinating juxtapositions we experienced last week.
Plato shared with us, “The wise speak because they have something to say; fools speak because they have to say something.” With so many voices competing for our attention, who do we listen to? Who do we trust?
“The Left usually has the gift of critical thinking but that very mind is often too negative and arrogant,” say Father Richard Rohr. The liberal elite tend to think they are a lot more “woke” than everyone else and they do not hesitate to let common people know it. “The Right, on the other hand, idolizes anything that preserves its own privilege and status quo, but often neglects to ask, ‘Is this bearing any fruit for others?’” says Rohr.
Both trust in power over love. So, where do we turn?
Jesus and other great spiritual teachers emphasize a primal transformation in consciousness, writes Rohr. Countless times Jesus spent the night in prayer. “He would withdraw to lonely places and pray,” (Luke 5:16). “He spent the whole night in prayer to God,” (Luke 6:12). Prayer is the language of God that transforms us from the inside out. What is required of us? Just listen.
Henri Nouwen says Jesus spent the night listening to the voice of God, listening to the Spirit calling him the Beloved. This is the voice Jesus heard when he came up out of the Jordan River and the voice he heard at night, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”
Why is it so important for Jesus to know who he is? Why does he need to know he is deeply loved? Why do we need to know this about ourselves?
Nouwen writes, “People applauded him, laughed at him, praised him, and rejected him. They called out “Hosanna!” and they called out “Crucify Him!” Likewise, in our lives we will hear competing voices lifting us up and restoring us and voices that condemn us and devalue us.
We will hear voices that will encourage us to hate, to destroy, and to vilify our neighbors. Loud charismatic voices will tell us that love and forgiveness are naïve, ridiculous, and foolish. Power, violence, and control rule the day, not love, some voices say. What voices do we listen to and what voices shape the way we live? Twitter? Facebook? Cable news? Contemplative prayer?
“When Jesus enters into prayer in the night, he is totally free from everything and totally open to the voice that calls him the Beloved,” says Nouwen. The absolute, unconditional love of God shapes Jesus’s thought, words, and actions. What voices shape us? Who do we listen to?
As we could hear and see last week, many voices are trying to mold us and form us. Some voices spew hate and anger and they exercise much power. They always worship a small petty god. But, in the quiet of the night, the calm of a winter day, we can hear the still small voice of God speaking to us, “You are my beloved daughters and sons. With you I am well pleased.” Nouwen says, “To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of our being and permeate our whole life.”
The world is a beautiful and a terrifying place at the same time.
But may we see the world through contemplative eyes.
May we hear the voice which confirms our belovedness.
May prayer move us to an expansive love of the world.
May we trust God’s voice.
Blessings and peace,