While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
- Luke 9:34-36
The cloud is God's form of self-revelation to the Israelites as the flee from Egypt. As here, on this mountain, the voice from the cloud recalls the voice from heaven declaring Jesus as the beloved Son in his baptism (Luke 3:21-22). Moses and Elijah are gone, so the one to whom we are to listen is made clear. It is Jesus.
What does it look like for me to listen to Jesus? It was easy for Peter, James, and John, I might say. Jesus was with them in the flesh. And even they struggled to hear and understand (see, for example, Luke 9:45, just a few verses from the passage above).
How can we listen to the voice of God in our lives today? Our noisy, busy world, all marketplace and technology, does not make it easy.
As Jesus brings the disciples up the mountain, as we have paused to take up these Lenten devotions, we might consider time apart as the first movement in hearing God speak. The next movement is allowing our time apart to be bathed in silence.
For some people, silence may seem easy and natural, but, if you are anything like me, it may have to begin as an uncomfortable discipline. And why is that? For me, when I enter the silence, my first experience is to notice the deafening noise in my head. The radio, television, chatter, and whatnot aside, nothing could be more preoccupying than the voice nattering inside of me.
I can't turn it off. Trying only makes it worse.
The problem isn't new to me, to us, to our generation. Centuries ago, in the late Middle Ages, a now anonymous author wrote about this challenge. His work has come down to us as The Cloud of Unknowing, and he is known only as the author of The Cloud. He offers pointed advice to the disciple searching to meet the God whose voice comes from the cloud. He directly addresses the need to be relieved of the tyranny of the interior noise that blocks our meeting.
The advice of the author of The Cloud is unexpectedly simple. He suggests choosing a word:
[Take] a short word, preferably of one syllable...The shorter the word the better, being more like the working of the Spirit. A word like "God" or "love." Choose which you like, or perhaps some other, so long as it is of one syllable. And fix this word fast to your heart, so that it is always there, come what may.That's the centerpiece. Choose a word. Fasten it to your heart. When distractions arise, allow the word to rise up instead. This is the beginning of contemplation, of surrendering all else in the expectation of hearing the voice that is spoken from the cloud.
For Entering In...
- Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. If your mind is preoccupied, allow the thoughts to come and to go. Notice what you feel in your body, in your heart.
- Invite God to be present with you.
- Reflect on these questions:
- There are many ways we might listen for God's voice -- the words of scripture, prayers, sermons, or books, the voices of friends, children, or teachers. Where have you heard God's speaking?
- What do you think about listening for the voice of Jesus inside of yourself, the indwelling voice of the Holy Spirit? Have you heard him speak?
- How do you feel about silence? Have you had any experience of spending time in intentional silence? If so, how has that been for you?
- Make a plan to spend some time in silence during the next few days. Notice what you hear. Is there noise inside when the noise outside stops? What is that like?
- Choose a word to "fasten to your heart." Pray about what it might be. Maybe it will be a single syllable, maybe two. It can be a "spiritual" word or any word that speaks to your heart. Some examples might be Jesus, God, one, peace, love, quiet, Spirit, joy. You can't do this wrong.
- Carry your word around with you, in your heart. Return to it during the day, or even if you awake at night. Let it speak in your heart.