Listening to the Divine Voice
Last week I talked about ‘listening’ in the Rule of St. Benedict, specifically verse 1 of the Prologue, ‘listening with the ear of the heart’. I talked about its multi-layered dimensions: that ‘listening with the ear of the heart’ is not just a surface level of hearing. It goes far deeper; it involves emptiness, surrender so that the heart opens from inside and is ready to receive the Divine voice: ‘Today if you hear God’s voice harden not your hearts’. So much can get in the way of our listening; and still if we can remember the interior movement of ‘bending’ the heart in humility to listen, knowing that the Spirit has something to say to us, or to teach us, or to convert our hearts leading us into truth…into a compassionate posture. Verse 1 as you recall ends with ‘put into practice’, put into practice what you receive through this humble deep listening that opens the heart, that evangelizes the heart in the ways of the gospel.
This morning I like to leap forward to verses 14-20 of the Prologue, which is a monastic commentary on several verses of Psalm 33. What is important first to note is that both the ‘Master’ and Benedict, following early Christian writers, place Christ as being the voice of the psalmist. It seems to me that what this does is it brings the Divine so much closer to us. The Holy Other is now the Incarnate One who calls to us saying: “Who are you who desire life and long for good days?” What precedes this question is verse 14: “And the Lord, seeking his worker in the crowds, calls out to them…” Bockmann points out the obvious: it is the Lord (Christ) who is seeking us and she adds that our seeking God is a response to our being sought…to our being called (A Listening Community, p.30). I think it is important not to overlook this spiritual truth: we can easily forget that our seeking is already preceded by God’s call and invitation: ‘Who are you who desire life?’ We are being invited into the Divine life and love right from the beginning…and with Jesus this life of God has been brought into our human lives, into every aspect of them. Just to say a word about the ‘question’…this is a question from God…as we let ourselves be addressed by the question, notice our heart’s response. The question evokes, the question carries the Divine presence, and we say almost immediately: ‘I do’, I want life…I want to follow and do what I have to do for this life…the ‘life’ that money cannot buy nor any achievement obtain. The question evokes the Divine, puts us in communion, into dialogue with God.
The next verse 16, says ‘If you hear this and answer I do then God says to you’…This verse was added by Benedict and the Master…Note the phrase ‘if you hear this’, which implies we can miss and not hear the Divine voice calling to us, inviting us into his life. And then what does God say: ‘Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit’. What we have to put into practice is to guard our tongue! This noticing, this mindfulness, can bring us back to a deeper listening, back to the Divine voice…God through the Spirit is always speaking to the heart; the voice of God speaks in silence and in word and we are to cultivate our listening…“If today you hear God’s voice…” How do we keep our tongues from speaking ‘deceit’; are we even aware of when this is happening? I like us to consider that perhaps it happens more than what we like to think. For example, whenever we have to defend an image of ourselves or refuse the truth of self-knowledge, notice how we can see a situation falsely or with untrue, partial elements. Truth is liberating and it goes hand in hand with self-knowledge…truth deepens our love and compassion. The tongue, meaning the words that come forth, is directly connected to the heart…to what is going on there….there, in the heart, listening, we learn the truth which makes us free. All of verse 17 is taken from Psalm 33 and the last phrases are “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it”. Bockmann points out that ‘seeking’ and ‘peace’ “are two key words for monastic life” (p.34).
So, when we turn from evil verse 18 says: “And when you do this, my eyes are upon you and my ears turned to your prayers and before you invoke me, I will say to you: ‘Here I am’”. The Rule, says Bockmann, emphasizes the necessity of grace (p.35). She means by this that when we turn away from the deceitful or hurtful tongue it is grace already operating. In Bockmann’s words “Whoever avoids evil, does what is good, and pursues peace will experience that God anticipates their prayers” (p.35). To repeat, as we turn away from the murmuring tongue, God is anticipating…it is both anticipated by God’s grace, which supports the turning, and God who says ‘Here I am’ as we ‘turn’ towards him. God is anticipating, which means grace is helping us to turn away from evil. Bockmann refers to Chapter 4 on the ‘Tools of Good Works’ where we are given a more explicit list of what we are to turn away from: turning from such things as anger, deceit, pride, various addictions and turn towards acts of loving kindness, reverence, truth, trust, openness (p.33). This is how concrete dear sisters and brother the Rule is! This is how peace is built…how a community is built…how the life of the gospel is incarnated…how the consciousness of Jesus lives on through us. It begins small (like the mustard seed)….it begins in the clay vessels of our hearts…and there is no true peace unless it begins here.
And the final two verses of this part of the Prologue: “What could be sweeter, dearest brothers, than the voice of the Lord inviting us. See in his kindness the Lord shows us the way of life”. There is nothing sweeter than God showing us the way of life…and it is today, as we listen with the ear of our heart and seek peace...the peace of Christ.