If there is any hope for the Church in the future, it will be hope for a poor Church in which its leaders are willing to be led.
– Henri Nouwen in The Name of Jesus
This morning’s Lenten readings were from Luke 2. It is a passage often recited and heard during Christmas; not a usual story that comes to mind during Lent.
The focus zeroed in on the shepherds watching their flocks and their response to the message given to them by the angels. N.T. Wright describes this episode in way I hadn’t thought about before. In many ways, it corresponds to what I wrote about yesterday regarding longings, presence, and vulnerability.
Shepherds were considered as lowly people in the time of Jesus. Not many people listened to them or respected them. The only ones who trusted them enough to actually follow after them were their sheep. Trustingly, the shepherds’ sheep take their cue from where their leader goes. Traipsing through the arid climate of the Mediterranean, the sheep end up at water and grass only after following the footsteps of their shepherd.
Ironically, the shepherds in Luke 2 are presented with a message where the tables are turned and they are asked to follow. Their destination? A feeding trough where animals eat. The ones who do the leading to sustenance are now to do the following. The ones who lead are now being called to the vulnerable state of being led.
“So we have to be sheep, now, do we? Why is that?” says Wright of the shepherds. “Back comes the answer, sung to music the like of which you’d never imagined before: ‘The great Shepherd himself has been born! The King is here, and you are his sheep, his people! Come and find him!'”
And off they go to find him as they were told. Instead of giving into the social voices of segregation and second-class citizenship, they followed the gentle voice of God.
Wright asks us, “Pause and pray about the quiet messages you get from time to time; perhaps not angels singing, but a soft whisper that tells you to go somewhere unexpected, to do something you hadn’t planned, to visit someone you were previously thinking about.”
In a world of competing voices, how do you posture yourself to hear God’s voice? What practices help you cultivate an attention to the presence of God?
One of the practices I have incorporated for some time now is the carrying around of my little notebook.
As you can tell from the duct tape, I always have it in my pack pocket regardless of where I am. If it is a trip to the grocery store, all day at work, on family trips, at other peoples’ homes, it doesn’t matter. I have learned God is always present, so I need to be attentive to hearing his voice where ever and when ever. And I’ve found this to be true as I have had to stop and write down thoughts, remembrances, people’s names, and a host of other things in a host of different places. As Nouwen continues,
In short, they [Christians] have to say ‘no’ to the secular world and proclaim in unambiguous terms that the incarnation of God’s Word, through whom all things came into being, has made even the smallest event of human history into Kairos, that is, an opportunity to be led deeper into the heart of Christ. The Christian leaders of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained – through prayer, study, and careful analysis – to manifest the divine event of God’s saving work in the midst of the many seemingly random events of their time.
Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.
Writing things down helps me remember what I believe God is saying to me. If I don’t, I tend to forget it rather quickly. Writing things down is also helpful in recalling what God said a day, a week, a month, or even a year prior. I always date every book and every day’s page, so I can easily maneuver back and forth between the present and the past for the sake of the future. I don’t write things down just for the sake of writing them down; no, I write things down so I know where I am being led instead of venturing out on my own. It is a book of action, not just memory.
Within this notebook, I have a practice I learned from my friend Ben. I ask three questions in the morning:
Father, what are we going to do together today?
Is there anything I will miss or need to remember that you need to tell me?
Are there any people I need to connect with who aren’t on my schedule?
These questions have given me a posture and a practice of being attentive through listening for and to God. I don’t always write an “answer” to each question and what I write isn’t always perfect. What they do allow for, however, is open space for my longings and presence to be readjusted by Jesus’ voice leading me. It is then my call to follow through with what he is saying. After all, the basis of discipleship revolves around the questions of “What is God saying to me?” and its follow-up, “What am I going to do about it?”.
What practices do you incorporate for listening to the voice of God?
Are there things you are denying yourself in order to create open space to hear God more clearly?
I’d love to hear as we learn together.
Other posts in this Lent series: