By Jayne Hugo Davis
When two of my sisters asked me what I wanted as a gift for my 50th birthday, I told them a collection of family stories — their personal recollections of family history, anecdotes or folly that, as the youngest of seven, I may not have heard or remember. The looks on their faces hinted with little subtlety that cold, hard cash would have been a far easier and more welcomed request.
Last week I received my Memories book filled with stories and letters, pictures and quotes, confessions and affirmations, not just from my brother and sisters, but from nieces and nephews as well. From the ridiculous of my brother climbing in the second story living room window on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa’s elf, to the sublime of a letter written by my mother after my father’s death.
My sister’s self-reported wheelchair mishaps that still make us laugh, only because she laughed first.
Summers at Cossayuna Lake, the smell of corn cakes in the toaster, pizza night every Thursday so that we would all stay connected.
Sitting in the upper deck watching Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the World Series. From the everyday to the once in a lifetime and everything in between.
What an amazing gift! To see your life through many eyes. To listen to my family story in many voices, and to discover the threads that weave them all together. A blended family characterized by unity. Finding strength in adversity, and joy in the ordinary moments. Themes that make you who you are — and maybe who you are still yet to be.
The spiritual practice of listening happens in much the same way — discovering God’s direction and guidance through the voices and stories of others and of Scripture, as they reflect our life back to us and hint at the places where God is at work in it.
When I was at St. John’s Abbey earlier this year, I met with Fr. Luigi for spiritual direction. As we talked about discerning God’s voice he drew an image on a piece of paper. It was the Japanese pictograph for listening. They call it “listening with 14 hearts.” On one side of the image is the picture for ear.
“It looks like a saloon door,” he said, “swinging back and forth.” Things go in and out of it.
To the right of that image are the pictures for the individual, the eyes, and a heart with many chambers.
There is much happening around us and in us. There are many sounds and noises and voices that go through those “saloon doors” of our ears. But to listen deeply, to hear the direction or the affirmation or the transformation that we are seeking from God, we must be attentive with more than just our ears.
The spiritual practice of listening is about paying attention to the movement of God’s Spirit in us and in the voices and the stories of others.
Sometimes God’s Spirit nudges us with whispers, those inner promptings that spark our imagination.
This past week our church staff was on retreat and we spent part of a day meeting with Jim Somerville and the staff of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. We wanted to hear their stories and the good things that God is up to in their midst. And there are many. I scribbled notes as they talked about people and programs and initiatives and lessons they have learned along the way. But when they started to describe their vision of “KOH2RVA” — bringing the “Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia” — our staff heard a collective whisper. It took hold of us, more than just a good or powerful idea. It was God speaking in to a moment, and we knew we were being nudged in a particular direction.
Sometimes God’s Spirit nudges us with groans, those connections we recognize between the needs in someone else’s life and the needs in our own.
Lectio divina is an ancient practice of reading a passage of Scripture multiple times and listening deeply for a word from God in it for you. Every time I sit with the text in Luke 5 and listen to Jesus’ words, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” I feel the groan of the Spirit and invariably God shows me an area of my life where I am holding back from trusting, from putting out into deep water. As we absorb the Bible and let it read us, the Spirit moves and God’s voice becomes clearer.
Sometimes God’s Spirit nudges us with thanksgiving, with reminders of the resources and the relationships that God has already provided that will help us to discern and to take the next steps on the journey or to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way.
So often fear or self-doubt can keep us from living into the things that we already know God wants us to do and to be. One of the beauties of living at the beach is the ability to gaze often at the horizon, to feel the expanse of “how far the east is from the west” and to be visually reminded that the God who separated the water from the land, the earth from the sky, is no less present to help me handle any struggles that come my way.
It is a reassurance a lot like receiving a book of Memories from people who love you. It clears the way to live in to whatever God is calling you to because you are reminded that you already have everything you need.
The spiritual practice of listening — because God is speaking in many ways.