My small, rural Quaker meeting on Lopez Island gathers for worship each Sunday in members’ homes. Frequently someone reminds people to speak loudly and clearly; even in the country, voices can be muffled by the crunch of car tires on gravel, a ferry foghorn, dogs barking, or a refrigerator humming. Mostly, the request for increased volume is needed because voices tend to soften and drop when people share from deep, inward places and personal experiences. And also because many of us are well past middle age, our hearing diminished by floods of loud music or machinery, or just aging senses.
During a recent Meeting for Worship, one member admitted he’s having increasing difficulty hearing and has begun to wonder if he needs hearing aids. As he’s thought of the possibility of slipping something into his ears to help him hear more clearly, he’s yearned for a similar simple correction to better hear that voice that guides him. “If only there were spiritual hearing aids,” he said.
I chuckled with others as my friend spoke, yet his lighthearted comment touched a deep truth for me. I’m always in search of devices to help me hear the wisdom of that divine essence I call God. Too often that voice is drowned out by others – echoes of fear, worry, anger, doubt, confusion, resistance, grief. Why is it those voices come to me first and loudest?
I’ve learned to distinguish between the judging, critical tone that took up residence in my head long ago and the kind of wise guidance that comes from a stance of love. Even so, often I have to strain to taken in that loving Presence rather than the old challenges about my worth, trustworthiness, and self-knowledge. I, too, yearn for an effortless way to turn up the volume on the Wisdom that I want at the center of my life.
Maybe tuning in to Spirit never will be as simple as planting a little plastic gadget in my ear. But there are some techniques that help me cut out some of the competing static. Most of them require that I slow down—plant my feet firmly on the ground; inhale and exhale deeply; light a candle; journal. Others connect me to a sense of awe and mystery—sunset; the sound of sea water tumbling rocks along the shoreline; an infant’s toothless grin and joyful gurgle; newborn lambs bouncing through green pasture. Still others remind me I’m not alone—reading words that inspire and cause me to ponder; sitting with others in the full silence of Quaker worship; feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing the natural world that surrounds us all. When that Voice I know I can trust seems distant or muffled, I need to remember, and turn to, the sources of help for my spiritual hearing.