Monday, March 5, 2012

Silence, Stillness (?), and the Voice of God

Yesterday, as predicted, I did get to hear two homilies about the Catholic readings.  Interestingly, they were not given by two different priests (as I'd anticipated) but by the same priest.  We had "learning masses" at two masses at our parish yesterday where the priest gave what he described as "director's commentary--like on a DVD" during mass explaining things that people do out of habit and may not realize exactly why they do.  Going to mass both times (once as a  Sunday school teacher with my 3rd graders--and also as a parent of my first grader--and once as a musician) was nice.  The homilies were interesting and contrasting.  I even complimented the priest afterwards and he commented that what he said to the Confirmation class and evening congregation was his more typical homily for that set of readings while his morning message had been aimed at the children from 1st-3rd grade.

Since I heard the morning homily first, I'll react to it first.  The priest encouraged the children--among other things--to be quiet and listen in silence and stillness for the voice of God.  Abraham heard the voice of God in the first reading.  And the apostles who went with Jesus heard the voice of God after the Transfiguration.  In fact, the priest commented on how Peter "could never shut up" and finally heard teh voice of God after he stopped talking about building tents and was quiet.

I thought about what the priest was saying.  I agreed with the silence part.  Some of the most special moments are when you are at peace enough to just enjoy a person's presence.  No need to converse constantly.  It is possible to just enjoy being.  That can happen as a couple--I can be with my wife and know that she cares about me and I about her as we just sit together and each take care of our respective tasks.  This can happen in a group--some of the most fun runs I've had are ones in which we carry on a conversation (and make it social as well as physical).  But some of the most magical runs I've had are runs where I and whoever I was running with--from one individual to an entire group--are doing just that.  Running.  Particularly if it is off the main roads.  Imagine running by a stream with little but the sound of the stream, the sound of birds in the trees, and the sound of feet hitting the ground in rhythm.  It can happen so many ways.  Silence is a very special thing.  And it is certainly one way to hear from God.

The stillness, I had more of a problem with.  Perhaps I am a closet ADHD.  (I've been in numerous discussions where it was proposed that many academic researchers are actually this way--wanting to go in many directions at once). But perhaps it is not that.  Perhaps it is just the enjoyment of being in motion and the belief that is what makes God happy.  (See my comments about Eric Liddell several days ago.)  Perhaps in addition to the movement example with my fellow runners that I mentioned above, I could also think of movement examples with my wife.  Hiking in the woods--occasionally.  Walking at the mall--as we did this past weekend.  We had good conversation.  The mall itself was quite crowded and certainly not silent like a nature trail in the running example.  But we didn't have to carry on the conversation the whole time.  And it was just so nice just being together and taking our time.

And, on the occasions when I am alone and running on a nature path--not so much running on the streets as then there is often way more noise and I don't feel safe just letting my brain ponder while I run--that is when I most often feel like I truly can be in touch with the voice of God.  It is when I can try to reach out and find how the voice of God is trying to comment on the rhythm--not of my running but--of my life.  Is the rhythm of all the things I am trying to do the right rhythm?  Does the rhythm including the frequency, intensity, and duration of my activities really reflect what God wants for me.  Is there something more God wants me to do or something God wants me to turn away from?  As someone who is constantly on the move, I suppose I am predisposed to think of God's message as having to do something with movement and rhythm.

So, my goal is not to contradict Fr. Murphy (and, yes, for those of us who grew up in my generation watching Little House, the guy was a real priest as opposed to the character paid my Merlin Olsen) but to offer just another way to think of the message--listen to God.  My interpretation is just to listen to God in any way I can.

Perhaps a runners' retreat would be a cool thing some day.  Rather than just a time when all the focus is on running, I could suggest a purposeful silent run just to see what it feels like and then to talk about what we heard, observed, or thought during the run.  

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