Where Glory Falls.
As I’ve been mulling over the description of the young biblical character Samuel, in the Temple of Shiloh, surprised and awed by the voice of God in the dim light of evening, it’s made me think about how we hear the voice of God today.
I recently went on a ‘Spiritual Retreat’ to a beautiful setting in the North Yorkshire Moors, armed with a bag full of resources (bible, notebook, a pre-planned meditation, music); a few years worth of burning questions which I would somehow find words to express clearly on the day and my head full of others’ stories of ‘Divine words’ in similar circumstances. I was just a little disappointed. Was I naive enough to think that God could be ‘organised’ to meet with me when I chose to set aside a day of my precious time for quiet reflection and prayer? Perhaps so.
Or maybe, I needed to be reminded that God meets with us in the ordinary: the daily difficulties, the grief, the joys, the humdrum of human existence.
The venue for the ‘Spiritual Retreat’ was a monastery and school combined. The splendid setting and grounds were reminiscent of a much older England. The Abbey itself was full of the wonderful “Mouseman” furniture: solid, functional and well polished. Each piece bore the ‘signature’ carved wooden mouse of the designer: creatures harmoniously perched under the weight of ecclesiastical bodies.
Sun streamed into the echoing rooms, halls and chambers of the cloisters. Monks floated silently across corridors. Visiting guests announced their presence loudly with the quietest of conversations and shoes clattered on stone flags.
I stole out into the grounds, past school children playing their usual Saturday sport, clearly at home where I felt an intruder. My walking pace gathered speed and my eyes scanned the horizon for a peaceful spot. Despite the green fields on the periphery of the site and the distant hills this was a landscape that encouraged movement, searching for …well, I’m not quite sure what I was really searching for. I imagined God would speak in a wide open space. I even longed secretly for a stretch of beach over that distant horizon. A wide deserted beach with endless white sand and huge waves.
On reflection, I think I was trying to escape from people. Hearing God speak for me is a solitary pursuit: a walk for two only. People are important, and to me also, but I worry about others: for them and with them.
And after a long walk I turned back . Back to people and the Abbey. Back to contemplation…about what I had just experienced of this strange but beautiful place.
The Monk’s welcome had been warm that morning: homemade cakes and biscuits too. He told us a little about himself (student at the school, progressing to Monk in the Abbey); about the illustrious and perilous history of the ‘Order’ and a sentence or so about the importance of quiet and prayer. After graciously making coffee and delivering his address to us with ‘public school boy’ finishing touches he disappeared silently to get on with his day. Curiosity got the better of me. What was he really thinking? What was the true story of this gentleman? And above all I wanted to know what he felt about….well about anything really. Just enough for reassurance that he would not suddenly disappear in a wisp of smoke or through one of those domed arches, never to be seen again. That afternoon I wandered the cloisters searching for pieces of his story, with my imagination providing more details than evidence.
I tried to give my fellow ‘retreaters’ a wide berth that day. Not because I would not have welcomed their company but because this was a “Spiritual Retreat” day and they were clearly getting on with the business of meeting with God. And I….well I was surely being fraudulent: indulgent day trip at most!
I rarely find that God speaks in grand speeches, news-worthy soundbites or booming words from a pulpit which have somehow winged their way to my ears only. Instead I often hear God’s words as an ‘internal voice’; a quiet but persistent word of encouragement, challenge, rebuke even. It’s a voice which I can so easily silence, with busyness, other interests as well as anxiety. Put simply, it’s just allowing my thinking to be influenced directly by God, mainly through His word, the Bible.
I’m learning that God’s presence and with it, God’s voice are nearer than we think.
“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
The Practice of The Presence of God.
And yet, the voice of God is elusive; like His presence; a ‘wind that blows where it wills’ with no hint of it’s direction of travel. It can’t be demanded, or co-ordinated for a special event, important decision or life threatening circumstance. God often chooses to make His presence known in surprising, and unexpected ways, from spectacular wonders of nature to the provision of bread for one hungry individual. Sometimes I see and appreciate the hand of a Divine God, and at other times the wonder is lost in a host of ‘legitimate’ human tasks and concerns.
The Psalms document one man’s struggle to seek God in the everyday, to “dwell in the house of the Lord, ALL the days of his life”. It’s in that word ‘all’ that I often stumble. If only it were ‘some’ I might have a greater chance of being in the place where God meets human and glory falls. But God knows the struggle and cheers us on when we push beyond the ‘pain barrier’ of our mental agility and attention.
Speak Lord for you servant hears…