So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69
God speaks to us. He speaks creative words that bring life. He created our life in the first place, and I think he still speaks to us to create new life in us.Unfortunately, we are often very attached to our old life, so this new life often bothers us1. In consequence we are often most busy with trying to define God in comprehensible terms, in terms that we can understand, and feel comfortable with. This way we prevent him from expressing himself fully to us. We need a change in our attitude towards God, before we can hear his words.
Psalm 27 seems to illustrate this change of attitude2. David starts out really confident: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? But halfway there is an interesting shift in this psalm in verses 6-8: Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me.Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! Where is now his confidence? But the interesting thing is, that he is now speaking to God, as opposed to about him in the first verses. Note also that it seems that he has now really heard something that God said to him.
It puzzles me that it is often such a struggle to hear God. You’d think it ought to be easy enough, but I find it difficult, even when I set apart dedicated time to be quiet and wait. There is a part of me that just keeps wanting to rush off and do something. We might not even be aware that we are shutting him out. How can we learn to detect what is going on, and listen better? It will probably take our whole life to learn this, but I think that a vital step is that we become honest, and speak to God what we really feel3.
Just one silly example from my own experience: A few weeks ago Fr. David suggested in his sermon that we would do as Jesus said and pray and ask God for the Holy Ghost. So everyone was silent and started praying for the Holy Ghost (I assume!). But all I could think was: “No, no, no, I do not want to be taken over”. I am just so afraid that God wants to take over my life completely, that I couldn’t pray this4. When I was younger, I had no problem at all with praying for the Holy Ghost. At the time I thought of him as a handy extra engine of energy that I could then use for my own purposes (of course I had really good and pious purposes!). Now that I have a slightly more realistic view of God, I have swung to the other opposite of being really afraid. So I was struggling with these fears, while at the same time knowing that Jesus would not suggest asking for the Holy Ghost if that weren’t a good thing to do. I wanted to follow his advice, but could not bring myself to do so.
However, thankfully, my honest objections in this situation did help me. In that awkward moment during the sermon I finally decided to pray that God would show me why this would be a good thing to ask, so that I would really want to obey this suggestion of asking for the Holy Ghost. Then, a few days later, I continued my reading in the Confessions of Saint Augustine, in the chapter that deals with our mind and memory, and read this: This faculty of memory is a great one, O my God, exceedingly great, a vast, infinite recess. Who can plumb its depth? This is a faculty of my mind, belonging to my nature, yet I cannot myself comprehend all that I am.5 It meant a lot to me, for it seemed that God was pointing out to me a really good reason to ask for the Holy Ghost. I was just so touched by the tenderness of this reply. So wonderful that he shows me the beauty of my own soul, and that the Holy Ghost would help me in getting to know all these depths better! How encouraging that God rewards my struggling with him far more than if I would have simply obeyed. His respect for my boundaries makes me feel personally loved, and makes me love him far more than if he gave me prosperity in everything.
To my amazement I have just said something very similar to Psalms 63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. A special moment, because this text always bothered me. I could not understand how such escapism from real life could ever be right. I had forgotten that the depth of our souls is a very real thing too, and worth attention, especially in God’s eyes. When we stand up and express honestly what goes on in our hearts, then finally we can have a true dialogue with God who creates and affirms our life.
- John 12:25
- I didn’t make this up myself, but heard it in a sermon in the Jeruzalemkerk
- The psalms are great examples in this respect, when you don’t know what to say, it can be of great help to pray a psalm.
- Even though I have already written quite a few texts on this theme, for example Who lives my life, Who is in control, Quicksand of Questions, all dealing with trying to find the balance in freedom for me, and what and how much God has to say about my life, and what is the place of obedience in all this.
- Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book X 8,15