February 16, 2012

Joseph. Samuel. Jacob. Moses. Isaiah. Daniel. Joseph. Paul. The Magi.

If God speaks to you through dreams, you are in good company.

Prophetic dreams are unusual. Not many of us receive clear direction to visit Herod, or pack up the family immediately. I’m grateful that hasn’t happened to me. For one thing, I’d be sure to forget something essential. Like a map.  Or my toothbrush. I’d also dither over whether it was a literal instruction or a more metaphorical statement on the state of the world today.

Not all instances of ‘Divine intervention’ dreams are as dramatic as that. Some provide insight into a tricky situation or offer help with discernment. At other times their purpose is all about consolation – an experience of communion with the Father.

What is it about being unconscious that allows us to hear God more clearly? Asleep, we let down our guard, we are more open, perhaps more vulnerable.  In that state, it is easier for God to get through to us; when we are at rest we are less defensive. Of course there are moments in our busy lives when we are able to practice the Presence of God while in possession of all our faculties, when we can hear Him speak with our waking ears.  We know, though, that God speaks in silence – a quiet space and a peaceful heart.

One of my favourite passages in Scripture is from 1 Kings 19:11-13:
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

My life often feels like it resembles the scenarios Elijah experienced on the mountain: like a powerful wind is passing through, the rocks of my foundation being torn apart, or an earthquake rending some facet of who I am into pieces, or I’m being scorched beyond bearing by a trial.  I used to long for the quiet times, because I hadn’t yet mastered being able to sustain peace in the midst of difficulty. It makes sense, doesn’t it, to think that God is present in the big moments, the dramatic moments, the attention-grabbing moments.  And indeed He is, and that is precisely what they are: big, dramatic, attention-grabbing moments. They are the pounding at the gate, the knock on the head. Sometimes circumstances result in the need for wind, shattered rocks, and an earthquake before we realize Someone is trying to catch our notice.

In every state of life, whether we are married with or without children; single on our own or with roommates; or a consecrated member of a lay or religious community, finding the stillness necessary to hear God is a challenge. The facts of life are unavoidable: work, children, travel, health, time, are all factors that must be accommodated.

The quality of my prayer is directly affected by the quality of my life. I’ve learned that certain things agitate me or alter my focus, such as reading too many magazines leading me to covet expensive clothes or designer home decor. Watching too much tv, or spending too much time surfing the internet is also a hazard to my state of mind. (I have a weakness for celebrity interviews on YouTube)

If I want to offer God the first fruits of my prayer – meaning more than a cursory Grace Before Meals, or a frenzied Hail Mary when I need help – there are certain things I need to keep in place.  For example, I need sleep or I’m susceptible to mood swings and anxiety. If I notice my inner life has become ADD, I know I need to go for a long walk along the water or in the woods because for me, that is a sure source of tranquility. The list probably looks different for each of us, but the key is to be mindful of our state of spiritual health. We should regularly take stock of where we’re at, and try to make adjustments as needed so that we have the inner stillness necessary to hear God’s gentle whisper.


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