In the midst of approaching Lent many of us seek to bring a more conscious awareness of what this season means in the deepest sense. Some of us give up something to emulate sacrifice and also to serve as reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord. Many of us participate in various church services and gatherings that are more contemplative, lights may be dimmed and quietness hovers over the room.
Setting the tone in such times can cause us to feel a closer connection with the Lord. Perhaps we tune in to more of His holiness and sacred moments such as this give us a greater sense of His presence with us. It quiets our soul and gentles our spirit.
What is it that makes such times so special for us? Each of us might answer that differently, but it seems to invite us into an intimate place that is set aside from our typical times of worship. I think it is an invitation to communion beyond sharing the bread and cup if that is part of the service.
Thomas Merton gives a lovely description:
“The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and beyond speech, and it is beyond concept.”
In such moments we can experience the paradox of an awareness of how broken and weak we may be, how flawed and imperfect we are, how lonely or lost we may be in our journey of faith, and even so, experience the loving arms of a gracious God who transforms us and heals our brokenness because He is LOVE.
When we begin to rest in this Love, we cease striving. We are less concerned about what others may think or need or want from us. We are more in touch with how the Lord is filling us. In those moments however brief they may be, we experience communion and are refreshed.
“This Love does not lose track of us no matter what dark places we must walk into. It is a Love deeper than any abyss that we might fall into. It is a Love with the power to heal any brokenness we might encounter.” Ruth Haley Barton
These encounters with Him bring us into a greater awareness of how deeply loved we are by the Lord, the breadth and depth of His grace, and gives us the courage to risk exposing our true selves with all our deepest concerns, questions, fears, and doubts to Him. And we can do so in our own times of devotion with Him.
We can risk being vulnerable with God when we know beyond doubt that we are loved and accepted by Him through grace. In those times of quietness we can own the truth of who we are at our core versus who we try to be when we are with others. It is then we are most quiet and open to the guidance He wants to give us.
We can miss this when we do all the talking in our times with the Lord. Some have said we tend to do most of the talking because He is not physically present within our human sight. I think there is truth in that. Can you imagine what a relationship with someone we love would be like if any time we were with them, we were doing all the talking all the time?
We would never get to know that person as well even if their silent listening gave us the sense we did know and appreciate them. We would never have a response from them to all of our words, a response that could offer comfort, encouragement, truth, or accountability.
In any other relationship we have, there is ebb and flow, a rhythm. We each speak and listen and this is what we tend to call true communication. When we have such reciprocal relationships we feel a connection, a union of hearts. If we have a real relationship with the Lord, would the same not also be true?
It is in those times when we stop talking when we are with the Lord that we begin to recognize His voice. Perhaps we have heard Him as his Word was open in our laps, but through the Holy Spirit there is that whisper we can come to know as His voice. When we practice listening in such times of devotion with Him, it makes it easier to recognize His voice as we go through our day and interact with others.
“At the very heart of the discernment process is an ability to pay attention not only to the obvious – circumstances, the clear meaning of pertinent Scriptures, the advice of friends who are wise in the Lord, the wisdom contained in our faith tradition – but also to the inner dynamics that give us clues as to whether the step we are considering will nurture life in us: the life of Christ lived in and through our most authentic self.” Ruth Haley Barton