I imagine God inclining his/her ear to me, bringing it so close to my mouth that I can whisper what I can’t say out loud.
God has heard my supplications, my pleas for assistance, direction, and relief. He has heard my rambling thoughts, my half-baked intentions. He holds my sighs and groans, my laughter, my despair. He listens to it all and leans closer still.
“To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being performs for another,” Douglas Steere wrote in On Listening to Another.
I’ve been listened to that way. When I was praying the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in 2012-13, I met with Father Elton Fernandes weekly. Early on in the exercises, I told him I dreamt that Fred and I had taken our four-year-old grandson to the beach. “We let him play while we took a nap for a couple of hours–something we’d never do. When we woke up, we realized, to our horror, he was gone. We looked everywhere for him, grasping onto the hope that he was alive and well somewhere. We looked and looked for him until… I woke up. I was so relieved that it was only a dream.”
Father Elton waited for me to go on. I told him what it was like growing up as one of five children in the fifties and sixties. “When I prayed about the dream, I felt that God was going to retrieve and redeem my childhood.”
Father Elton was silent for a moment, then said, “What stood out for you were two things: looking and waking up. You talked about looking, that you sensed God was looking for you. But what about the waking up? What are you waking up to?”
“That I’ve lost someone precious to me.” Tears came as I continued, “And that someone is me. I’m waking up to the belief that I’m as precious as our grandson is. The dream is asking me: Will I cherish and love myself the way God cherishes and loves me?”
I could hardly get the words out. I looked through blurry eyes for a tissue. “Thank you, so much. I never saw that coming.”
“Neither did I,” said Father Elton and I loved him for it.
God listens like that. In the silence, he waits for that still small voice in me to say out loud what I fear is true and what I hope is true.
Then God inclines his lips to my ear and tells me what he knows is true.
“Come,” God says, “let me wipe your tears,
and let my mouth come close to your ear
and say to you, ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings
* * *
I found Michael Cook’s “Burning Bush” (in post above) three and a half years ago when I was looking for an image that illustrated the holy listening that happens in spiritual direction. In our conversations and in Michael’s art, I hear and see God’s embodied compassion again and again–leaning in, loving, protecting, listening, always listening. His painting, Night Prayer, so impacted our SoulStream community when we were together for our annual gathering in 2014, that we brought it again the next year. When I told Michael how it had touched people’s lives, he said, “Sometimes it is hard to believe that a painting might truly help anyone on their path; it seems such a weak thing.” Yet in this “weak thing” we encountered God. Michael, thank you for the love mischief you do as your life with God is poured out in colour for the world.