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Ears to Hear, Eyes to See

Rainbow

Photo: Christine Hall

By Christine Hall

In this day when the burdens of humanity
    press so heavily upon us
I would begin not first with techniques of service
but with the most “Serious Call to a Devout Life,”
a life of such humble obedience to the Inner Voice
    as we have scarcely dared to dream.
Hasten unto Him who calls you
in the silence of your heart.
The Hound of Heaven is ever near us,
    the voice of the Shepherd is calling us home.

—Thomas Kelly (Quaker, 1945), from A Testament of Devotion

THE PANDEMIC SHUT DOWN THE POSSIBILITY for in-person retreats indefinitely. Retreats were the backbone of the Way of the Spirit program I direct. This summer, the new reality plunged me into big questions: How could the program even continue?

My heart sank to imagine laying down Way of the Spirit in its well-developed patterns. I love working with people over time. Normally, I have 18 months to encourage and tend the unfolding of discernment, spiritual giftedness, and awareness of God leading people in service to others. Plus, I really didn’t feel “done” with this ministry.

My inner ears had been tuned to Guidance for response to immediate crises. My spiritual eyes had been on my toes, watching each step of each day. Now, I’m happy to say that the Spirit has lifted my gaze to see more clearly into the months ahead. Yes, the long-term ministry implications of pandemic—with related economic, political, and social upheaval—are massive. But God’s “leadings,” as Quaker’s say, are surprising, and pointing new ways forward.

During prayer one morning in July, I received a “download” of possibilities for the year ahead in ministry. It came with ease and joy, with a sense of rightness and hope. A friend used to tell me of being woken in the early morning hours with her own download or “Divine to-do list.” Something about the openness of the early hours helps me “receive” leadings.

My download began with remembering my longing for long-term teaching and spiritual accompaniment of Way of the Spirit program participants. I heard, “What’s the smallest chunk of program time that you’d be satisfied with?” To be clear, this is not an audible voice, more like a thought in a Holy accent I recognize through experience. “At least a month!” was my quick inner reply. Follow up questions rose about timing, topics, sequencing. My answers came smoothly with new options and approaches to respond to today’s needs. The long-form curriculum seemed to sort itself quickly into manageable bite-sized chunks.

What kind of prayer helps me open to inner listening and the Spirit’s guidance? For me, it’s mostly letting go. I sit in silence for 20 minutes every morning. I intentionally welcome and receive the Presence and action of God in my being. As thoughts and feelings come up, I name and release what I think should happen. The morning of “download,” I was also noticing and letting go of my emotional response to program changes—my grief, fear, sense of “not fair!”. This is my version of contemplative practice, based on Centering Prayer as taught by Thomas Keating and colleagues. Other kinds of contemplative prayer can do the same thing with movement, singing, or spiritual reading. They aim for a kind of holy surrender and trust in God “whose thoughts are beyond my thoughts.”

Since then, I’ve experienced a flood of energy to reorganize Way of the Spirit. That’s another sure sign of the God’s guidance for me. It’s not “obligation” or burden. No matter that it’s a boatload of effort, it’s satisfying and sometimes even “fun.” Way of the Spirit is soooo not “done.” There’ve been five or six information sessions for potential new program participants. People are gathering from farther and wider than ever before—Colorado, California, Hawaii, Missouri, as well as the usual Washington and Oregon.

I’ve followed leadings to post more on Facebook and reach out to non-Quaker contacts. This month, Way of the Spirit alumni are test-driving the first program “Mini-Course.” It’s happening online over three alternating Saturday’s, with private webpages to share reflections, one-to-one spiritual accompaniment, and prayer exercises between. The new format is working well to engage, connect, and stretch us in good ways. There are varied of activities to keep things lively: teaching presentations, reflection exercises, discussions, small group sharing, and diverse prayer practices.

Do you hear the hope in all this? It’s real trust-worthy experience that no matter the state of the world, the pandemic, or who wins the White House (VOTE, please!), God is with us, and within us, moving through us in ways that help weave Goodness forward into the uncertain future. That’s a resurrection promise. That’s Good News!


Listen — Tune Your Inner Ears to the Spirit, an online mini-course from the Quaker Way of the Spirit program