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  • Writer's pictureOrdinary Pilgrim

Audio Lectio: When there are no words...

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

"I don't wanna miss one word You speak

'Cause everything You say is life to me

I don't wanna miss one word You speak

Quiet my heart, I'm listening...

...Your ways are higher,

You know just what I need.

I trust You, Jesus,

You see what I cannot see."

--Excerpt from I'm Listening by Chris McClarney (feat. Hollyn)

Click here to listen to the full song.

About a year before I would be returning from my Camino pilgrimage, musician Chris McClarney released his album Breakthrough, which included the song I'm Listening, excerpted above. I don't recall hearing the song before I left, but when I got home, it seemed like I couldn't get in the car without it being on the radio - it was everywhere!

It seemed especially relevant at the time, because one of the very important things that happened on my trip was the recognition that listening (and by extension, obedience) was a growth area for me. I've spent a lot of time since praying for the grace to hear whatever God might have to say.

I don't think I'm alone in struggling with being quiet or with listening. Lack of confidence in what I hear, both with my ears and my heart, regularly gets in my way, along with some fear, too. (What if God asks me to do something I don't want to do?!?)

For me, it's generally been much easier to say something and stay in control than it has been to take my chances sitting back, waiting and listening. In these times, it's actually felt very wrong not to speak out. And yet for two months now, every time I have tried to put a post together, nothing happened. I feel like I've had plenty on my mind, but the moment I've taken up a pen, or felt the laptop keys under my fingertips, I've been at a loss. Even now, I'm struggling to know just what to say.

In my time of relative quiet, there has been no shortage of things to hear. As you have likely experienced for yourself, the tremendous amount of noise has been overwhelming.

There is noise about politics, who's right, who's best and who's ahead. There is noise related to my former profession, like whether or not removing statues is an obliteration of history. There is still noise about the pandemic - whether or not it's real, whether or not masks are helpful.

There has been a lot of noise around racism, as there should be, although a lot of it feels like it misses the point, or at least the opportunities this season offers. People debating just whose lives matter, people sharing all sorts of criteria for what makes someone racist, people questioning their role and responsibility for something that happened generations ago, people for and against the rebranding of syrup...

This is the place where I would like to say, "I'm a Christian who strives to live my life in a way that reflects God's love, so it goes without saying where I stand concerning all of the different issues I just mentioned." But in some of the listening I've done over the last two months, I realize that's not true.

Nothing goes without saying, because we are all in unique places with our own knowledge, understanding, rootedness in personal priorities and perception of how the thoughts and actions of others affect us. Without honestly recognizing and sharing our thoughts and opinions - and most importantly, our questions - we will have a hard time having meaningful conversations about anything, and we miss finding points of unity where we might take action to make a difference together.

Looking back at what has transpired since I posted last, I feel like my unintentional retreat into keeping quiet was because there was some important listening I was supposed to do - listening to myself. I previously wrote a little about this in the context of what I was learning when the pandemic first started affecting life.

The laying open of longstanding, deep wounds in our country related to racism, however, made me even more sensitive to just what lenses I view the world through. It has been more difficult, and often even more unpleasant, than wading through all the other noise out there, because I thought I was above the yuck.

How often have I told myself that as a child of God, I know how to love my neighbor, when in fact I easily fall into anger or judging? How often have I relied on assumptions about what Jesus would do, when I have neglected scripture or stopped short of digging deep to really understand it? How often have I turned to my limited experiences to quickly assess a situation or to determine how I was going to respond to someone, and not been even a little open to setting the familiar aside or trying on a different perspective?

When I step back and hear the things I say and think, with the grace and aid of the Holy Spirit to listen to and question them, I can't help but feel naïve and convicted.

Now, I think, I'm ready to speak up and share an opinion, and it covers all your favorite hot-button topics! Here goes: I'm wrong. A lot more than I realize. And (most likely) so are you. If we ever feel like we've arrived, that's a good sign we probably still have a long way to go.

If one word has risen to the surface in these months of quiet as I listened to others and myself, it has been "humility." No harm is done when I accept that I'm not an authority. In fact, I can say I don't have much of anything figured out, and my value in God's eyes is still very much intact. On the other hand, when I dig into a particular position with the idea that it's superior to anyone else's, I quit listening and basically render myself unteachable. That seems like a path to stunting my own spiritual growth.

There will always be noise, but within that noise are very important voices to be heard and to learn from. I've started to consider ways that uncomfortable voices - both those that are uncomfortable because they contain truth, and those that sound hateful or otherwise off-base with my values - can serve a purpose if I recognize my reaction to them and submit that to God. They are a chance to ask questions, to check in with what I see when I look at myself in the mirror, and to seek guidance about if and when and how to respond.

For now, my prayers to hear what God had to say have been answered in a way I didn't expect, by shedding further light on some of what I needed to be listening to in myself. I have a long way to go in walking humbly, but a dive into self-awareness has been a good starting point. As Chris McClarney notes in his song, God's ways are higher - He knows what I need. All I really have to do is trust and keep listening.

How has God been moving in your life recently, in terms of what you've felt called to do, or called not to do? What are some of the ways Spirit has given you grace in these times to face a seemingly endless diversity of opinion and information on topics that affect everyone?

A note: My recent experience has not left me feeling like I or anyone else should adopt a position of humility that results in withdrawing, no matter how tempting that is at times. Since our ways of living and thinking were turned upside down this year, I've seen Micah 6:8 make an appearance in many places: "...And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." This implies some interaction with the world. I pray that each of us can be open to ways the Spirit moves us toward living out this scripture in our home, community, country, and the world.

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