How do you hear the voice of blessing in your life? Is it a ritual or tradition? Maybe it’s a practice or regular habit?
My favorite place to seek the face of the Divine is in nature, typically by a flowing stream or on top of a mountain, but I’d have to say that relationship with the Divine was built on a daily devotional practice.
I grew up calling them “quiet times,” but this daily practice really became my own during my morning bus ride in high school. I would read a chapter in Psalms, one in Proverbs, and then a whole letter or several chapters of another book in the Bible. When I started college, this practice grew to include journaling and more in-depth study with copious notes. After college, my practice of reading and journaling became “morning coffee with God” with pretty much the same routine.
This regular, even ritualistic, practice is where I encountered the reality of my spiritual experiences, and what made my mountain top moments so meaningful. As Henri Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved:
“If the fact of our blessedness is not just a sentiment, but a truth that shapes our daily lives, we must be able to see and experience this blessing in an unambiguous way.”
That might seem a bold statement, possibly even a hopeless one, yet isn’t such unambiguity exactly what we are all searching for? A reliable encounter with the Divine mystery? Oh, the stories we could tell of the paths we’ve wandered! In Life of the Beloved, Henri offers us Prayer and Presence as two ways we can claim our blessedness and experience it as true.
Prayer has been many things for me over the years, from conversations with God to desperate pleas cast at silent skies. Pages and pages of journals tell the stories of fervent prayers on the mission field, all night vigils, and quiet awe at sunrise. It has been longing and seeking and yearning, oft times with uncertainty as my only answer. That’s a difficult place to rest when the greatest treasures you seek are wisdom and understanding.
The intellectual faith handed down to me taught that meditation meant “to chew the cud,” to bring back up teachings from scripture and dwell on them, ponder them, and let them work on you from the inside out. The purpose of my prayer life was to seek an inner understanding of all that I was learning and studying. “Read and feed on the Word,” we said.
We talked about how head knowledge needed to become heart knowledge before it would change us, but we didn’t really talk about how that happened other than to suggest that it was the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It’s like we were taught how to put on a good spread of spiritual food, but we were not taught how to properly digest our food. Instead, we tried to make the digestive process just more eating. The effect was to be left with some serious spiritual indigestion.
I don’t mean to suggest that the “digestive process” is purely passive, but it’s a different kind of effort than that of feeding ourselves. It’s an inner work, as opposed to an outer task. Henri describes it like this:
“The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.”
He calls it work because sitting in silence long enough to hear the voice of love is hard, not so much because being still is complicated but because it’s scary. The first voice to fill the void is usually that of self-rejection reminding us of all the tasks on our to-do list we’re failing to get done, and if that doesn’t get us to give up, it sets in on how useless and silly our effort to be still is. But the worst thing self-rejection can do is point out just how quiet silence is, insinuating that we are not worthy of the Divine response we seek.
Henri encourages us to “embrace our solitude and befriend our silence” that we might hear that still, small voice saying, “You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests.”
“The movement of God’s spirit is very gentle, very soft – and hidden. It does not seek attention. But that movement is also very persistent, strong and deep. It changes our hearts radically. The faithful discipline of prayer reveals to you that you are the blessed one and gives you the power to bless others.” (Nouwen)
I’ve heard that voice call me by name before, but like so many before me, my path has grown dark and silent. I am exploring new teachers like Richard Rohr and Dallas Willard, and new disciplines like Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, and Rites of Passage.
(Have you explored any of these paths? I would love to hear your story! Seriously. Shoot me a message down below, or leave a comment.)
These new disciplines help me practice Presence, which Henri describes as, “Attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day and year after year.” See the blessings all around you in the people, beauty, and circumstances of your life. Receive kind words and affirmations as blessings, don’t just brush them off. Slow down and be here now, because the truth is you are abundantly blessed already.
Being Present to your blessing is a “choice that you have to keep making from moment to moment,” Nouwen writes. Every day you choose whether you will live in the land of the blessed or the land of the cursed.
In a similar way, I heard someone say that we are all winning at the game we are playing, so if you feel like you are losing, change the game you’re playing.
What game are you playing? How can you become present to the blessings in your life today?
I’d love to hear from you. You can send me a message or leave a comment below. You can also sign up for our newsletter below or in the column to the right. Finally, you can join us on Facebook at On Journey Together.
Being firmly grounded in our chosenness and blessing, we can face our brokenness with eyes wide open. This is the third “movement of the spirit” Nouwen describes in Life of the Beloved, which we will begin exploring next week.
Thank you for being on this journey with me. Buen Camino, my friends.
To the end, to the truth.