As I begin writing, the muted sounds of my husband playing guitar drift through the heavy wooden door of his office. The faint noise of spraying water creeps down the stairs and into my consciousness, as my boys begin their nightly showers. The dryer hums in the background. The clock ticks on, unaware. But I am listening.
It’s a tricky thing, this listening. To do so, one requires not only a certain amount of external quietude, but, more importantly, the noise of the mind must also be silenced. For most, yours truly among them, this is the more difficult task. The details of living, the mental to-do lists, the perpetual planning and mapping out of days, the constant activity of our thoughts…these things are difficult to let go. It’s not a matter of turning off the dryer or setting aside the guitar.
Sometimes, to listen requires work. In therapy, we refer to “work” as the effort a client must make to change dysfunctional behaviors and/or thought patterns. It takes effort to change. It takes effort to listen.
I remember, as a kid, driving for hours in the family station wagon to go visit the relatives. My dad did not like noise. (He did, however, enjoy smoking in the car with the windows rolled up—no wonder I always got car sick). Too much giggling in the back seat was sure to put him in a sour mood. And nobody wanted that. So, the four of us kids mastered the discipline of silence. Not much to do in such circumstances except to look. And listen. Mostly, we listened to our own thoughts.
Life today is filled with so much noise. Our children have portable DVD players, gameboys, talking books, ipods, cell phones, yada, yada, yada. How will they learn to listen? Not just to others, but to themselves? How will they learn to hear the voice of God?
One of my favorite things to do is sit on our back deck and look out into the meadow behind our house. On first glance, there’s not much going on back there. But when I sit a while, I become part of the landscape. And a whole new world is opened up before me. I see and hear things that my busy brain would overlook if I had not taken the time to stop, and listen. The sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze becomes a symphony, the various bird songs a harmonious accompaniment. What looks like a common jay to the hurried eye reveals itself as an American Kestrel. Red-tailed hawks sit in the apple trees, holding their own silent vigil. Rabbits leap over bristling grasses, and squirrels appear from hidden nooks to investigate my bird feeders. Each season holds a beauty of its own. And the busy life of the meadow never ceases to fascinate me.
It reminds me of Elijah in the cave at Horeb. You know the story. This mighty man of God had just defeated the prophets of Baal in a gripping battle orchestrated by the Lord. But when Queen Jezebel sent a message to him that she planned to kill him, he fled. This man had just witnessed the power of God in mighty ways. Yet, he feared a lowly human. Is this what happens when we fail to stop and listen? Do the things that have no power in reality begin to hold power in our minds?
Elijah fled to the cave. And: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1Kings 20:11-13 NIV)
Doesn’t that give you chills? It’s one of my all time favorite Bible stories, and probably the reason that I meadow watch. When we listen, Beloved, God talks. His voice is sometimes hard to hear, so we must strain, we must exert ourselves, we must put forth every effort! Do your own meadow watching this week, Dear One. The Lord has something wonderful to tell you.