Beloved St. John’s community,
This past weekend we had our annual clergy conference. Its theme was “praying in the dark.” Believe it or not, even clergy often feel as if they don’t have time to pray. Prayer can become a part of one’s “job” instead of a deep part of one’s inner life. But As David Vryhof expresses in Walking the Way of Love, “prayer is a gift to be received, not a task to be completed.” The retreat’s focus was to help all of us receive the gift of prayer, not cross it off our to-do lists.
But saying prayer is a gift and experiencing that gift are two different things. The retreat facilitator, Brother James Koester from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, opened the retreat by saying:
You should expect miracles. God is always seeking to speak to people who are not listening. Do you not think that when anyone listens for God, that God will not speak?
And therein lies the rub. It is an art, and often profoundly difficult, truly to listen: to each other, to our own deepest selves, or to God. Yet it is precisely this stance of hopeful waiting—a stance of receptivity and intimacy with God—that provides us the opportunity to hear God’s voice.
One of the exercises we had in our retreat was to find the darkest room in the house, go in and shut the door, and spend five minutes in silence. The idea was to see how much more our eyes could see in the dark after five minutes than we could at first. I suppose the point was to experience gradually seeing our way, even when times seem dark. But that exercise didn’t work for me. I went to a small room in our basement that has no windows and is truly pitch dark. After five minutes with my eyes wide open, I still could see nothing. There was no difference between having my eyes open or shut.
So I didn’t get what I suppose was the point of the exercise, but I did experience something else. In that entirely dark and entirely silent room, with no sensory stimulation, my mind suddenly cleared. It was fully open, calm, and waiting without tension or anxiety. It was marvelous. When I emerged from that room, I felt like I often do after three days on the North Shore. Only five minutes of true, receptive silence in the presence of God was more restorative to me than I can explain rationally.
This coming Sunday, the lectionary contains a reading that is fairly well known. It says this:
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
I don’t think this phrase “wait upon the Lord” means blindly accepting chronically stuck places in our lives, or trusting passively that all shall be well without reflecting and acting upon the Spirit’s leading in life. In Hebrew the word for wait is “qavah”, which also means to be gathered together (like the waters were “gathered together in one place” in the second day of creation in Genesis 1). Waiting anticipates being united with the thing waited for. And in this text, what we are waiting for is the presence and power of God. This God exists in our deepest being, and is the source of an endless spring of love and grace that we can touch and receive, that can nourish us far beyond what we might even imagine or hope.
Where are you weary? For what have you been waiting? Might you take a small amount of time to focus your full attention on being receptive to the presence and action of God?
Faithfully, in Christ’s love,