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Jeff the Baptist, vol. 1, #11

Listening to the Silence

Prayer is a fascinating topic.

We say grace before meals. We say our prayers before we go to bed. We bow our heads together in church. We pray to glorify and praise God (as if He needs it). We may give thanks before clipping some irises and bringing them inside to adorn our kitchen table. We pray for friends, relatives, and others we have heard of who are going through tough times. We pray for ourselves.

In all this prayer, we struggle for words. When we pray before others, we are conscious that they are listening. We struggle to sound professional and erudite (my favorite is when I hear someone put on his "prayer" voice). When we pray by ourselves, we are suddenly very conscious that God is listening, which may very well be worse. We struggle with what we ask for. Should we be troubling God with such minor concerns? Perhaps we want our prayers to sound as if we have it all together. After all, doesn't a good Christian have it all together?

Perhaps the words we use do not matter. Perhaps whether we speak at all does not matter. Perhaps our loving, sweet, sweet, God already knows what we are about to say. Perhaps our spirit carries our concerns to God far more eloquently than any prayer we could ever hope to compose. 16th century mystic Teresa of Avila thought so.

So, perhaps all we need do is sit in silence. To stop struggling to find the right words, to stop fighting to sound competent and praise-worthy, to stop being so busy as we try to talk with God. Perhaps all we need do is sit in silence and listen. Perhaps in the silence, we may hear Her voice calling to us.

I've noticed that as I sit in silence each morning, images have come my way. One was an image of Jesus. While listening, I was imagining myself leaning back on Jesus' breast. It was wonderful. The picture of Jesus that I had in mind was my childhood one: Euro-American, gentle blue eyes, longer brownhair and trimmed beard. I didn't care. I know the difference and it worked for me. While leaning on his breast, he felt so strong. He felt so comforting. He felt so loving. It was a wonderful way to start the day. Throughout the day, I would catch wisps of that love, playing on the wind, surrounding me, holding me. God took me up in Her close, loving embrace.

Her message was clear: It mattered not what I did. I knew She loved me.

Then, one day my picture of Jesus, on its own, changed. His face turned into a bright, white light. Then his chest, as well. The light grew, becoming larger, stretching wider and wider. Soon it began to fill the sky, becoming yet larger. It began to diffuse into collections of lights that formed into spirals so large that I could not fathom them. The spirals became galaxies in a night sky so wide, so deep, and so vast that I felt so insignificantly small in comparison.

In the following days, I found that even when I began with the image of my childhood Jesus, he quickly changed into this image of a cosmic Christ. I found, for a while, that I could not lean back. I was afraid that I would fall.

This continued for some time. The cosmic Christ still attends my morning prayer. But, I've found now that I am changing to understand Him. I'm learning how to lean back. I'm not so afraid that I will fall anymore. As I lean back, I'm finding that there is something that supports me that I cannot see and that I do not understand. But it is there. I also do not feel the warmth and the love that I used to. I do not know where it has gone, nor whether it will come back. But, somehow, I believe that it will.

As I continue to ponder this image, it strikes me that the Christ I see here is infinitely larger than the figure we try to make out Jesus to be. Some of us earnestly believe, and some of us earnestly try to, that Jesus died for our sins. But this picture of a Christ, so vast that He fills the sky with galaxies, suggests to me that just as Christ has meaning for us, He has meaning for the rest of the cosmos as well. It suggests to me that when we talk about our salvation, we'd better be talking about the salvation of our universe as well. The irises and the viruses, the amoebae, the tadpoles, and the frogs, the chlorophyll yet to be discovered on celestial bodies in this solar system and in others, the myriad of other beings that make up this cosmos; all these are just as involved in the Christ as we are.

Perhaps this image will change. Perhaps it will deepen in significance. Perhaps in my listening to God, I am only hearing what I want to hear right now, and I'll catch more of Her words later.

Either way, I plan to continue listening.

- Jeff the Baptist


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