Sunday, August 6, 2023
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
How do we listen to Him?
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy Texas 77450
The workshop that I led at the Storytellers Festival centered on the gospel for today. It is a rich gospel and a perfect one on which to do several types of Ignatian Bible mediations. Those meditations were the topic of my workshop and I was showing the people how to use those to improve their storytelling. Now most who were in the workshop were relatively new to storytelling so I was teachings some basics. One of those is an adaptation of what most people know as Lectio Devino. This is where you read a passage and watch for what phrase or word jumps out at you and then you pray over those words. This is the easiest way to pray over scripture. See what word comes up and pray over why it stands out and what is God asking you to do. By the way, all prayer is a response to God, not the start of the conversation and this is what Lectio is all about. This allows God to place something on your heart and in your mind. If you taking nothing else away from today’s sermon than remember this concept.
As I practiced and rehearsed the telling I did this morning, which I also did in the workshop at the storytellers festival, I was on my Ignatian retreat in Louisiana. As I walked (early in the morning as the sun was coming up and am little mist was over the fields) I found myself gravitating to the voice in the cloud. “This is my son my chosen, listen to him.” It was the word “listen” that kept drawing me in. One of the things you do on a silent retreat is listen and look for God in a very intense way. There is a lot of silence since the only conversation is with your spiritual director once per day and when you say the responses in mass each day. They even encouraged us no to make eye contact with the other people on retreat. This was all to help us focus on our retreat. The goal was to eliminate any and all distractions. Of course, there is always the challenge to turn our brains off in terms of worry and constant circular thinking about a variety of things. Some meditation teachers refer to this as monkey brain. Those things that keep going around and around in our heads and I will come back to how to address that in a few minutes.
I have found that periodically, I need that silence that time of being disconnected from the world. It takes me at least two or three days on a retreat to slow down and gain some centeredness, some quiet in my inner being. One thing that seems a central theme to all at the retreat was slow down. I remember on one of my first retreats I was in Massachusetts at the country retreat for the Society of St. John the Evangelist out of Boston. I met for direction at the large old farmhouse. The second day the monk who was my director said, “Mark you must learn to slow down. I’m going to stand at my window and watch as you return to your hermitage. See if it can take you 30 minutes to make that 5 minute walk today. Tomorrow see how long it can take.”
We live in a hectic, noisy world and it wears us out even if we don’t realize it. These distractions and demands for our attention also make it difficult if not impossible to pay attention to God. Now there are things you can do to train yourself to quiet and slow down. Just physically slowing down doing things with thought and mindfulness. When you have a huge expanse of time like on a retreat a meal becomes something that you can take time over and enjoy. There is a whole industry around trying to get people to pay attention to what they eat and why. The first morning I ate my breakfast in about 10 minutes and then thought, “why are you in such a hurry you have time relax.”
Before you can meditate on scripture or really pray in need to quiet yourself and especially your mind. The easiest way to do that is to use a breath prayer. I’ve mentioned this before, but it is such an essential tool, so I’m going to bring it up again. Feet on the floor close your eyes if it helps as you slowly inhale and exhale. You might use a word. Yahweh works well. Yah as you breath in, way as you exhale. Breathe in God’s love and breath out anything that is distracting you or getting in the way of peace in your mind. There is a second idea to take with you today. It will quiet your soul. Sometimes I use it at 3:00 in the morning when my brain will not shut off.
How does God speak in the Bible? Clouds and mountains do have a way of showing up for these occurrences. I’ll bet many of you recall the voice calling to Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments movie, but that is just Cecil B. DeMille’s concept of God’s voice. A very patriarchal and judgmental voice it is. Yet that is just one person’s concept it doesn’t have to be yours.
Now this is not the first time we have heard a voice saying that Jesus is God’s son. At his baptism the voice says This is my son, my beloved in whom I am well pleased. So you have that in the back of your mind. So what does God’s voice sound like if it isn’t in the Ten Commandments?
One thing that was very interesting in the workshop I taught was that we got talking about how to say the words that come from the cloud. So we played with that a little. When teaching storytelling I tell people to play with the story. So I’m going to let all of you play with this single line. Get with somebody in the congregation because you will need a partner. Now close your eyes for a moment and listen to that verse.
A voice from the cloud said, “This is my son, the chosen, listen to him.” Say that line over to yourself and listen to what the voice sounds like in your mind. You can also say it different ways. With a person next to you try saying that line several different ways. Talk with the person about how the voice sounds. If this is like my workshop every person will have a unique personal way of saying that line.
Many people have a voice of God in their mind that is filled with authority, but what if we think of a voice that speaks in loving inviting terms rather than a command? How might that line sound if said in a loving way, a proud way like a proud parent? What does the voice of God you hear say about your image of God. Now your image of God is yours and there is nothing good or bad about it, it just is, but you might try playing with this voice to see what feels right to your soul.
One last thing of which my spiritual director reminded me. When we pray, we are responding to something God has put on our hearts. It isn’t that we are telling God something God doesn’t know. Rather we are saying we are aware of what God has put on our hearts.
I leave you with a thought from the Brothers at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, “Prayer is especially for remembering what God has already spoken, what we know to be true and overlook … or run from. As you pray, listen. Might God be stepping in, breaking through barriers of what you have put off or neglected, pointing out self-focus? Listen for love which breaks through resistance, neglect, and fear. God is here today inviting to build an active relationship, to pray together, to dwell with us. Now is the time.” Listen to him.