by Rev. Eric Elnes, Ph.D.
Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before being arrested and crucified may fit the freight-night spirit of Halloween better than it does the lead-up to Thanksgiving. Yet what transpires at Gethsemane fits the topic of our series about listening for the Holy Spirit’s voice quite precisely. The Gospels are full of remarks about Jesus regularly withdrawing from the crowds and spending hours – even all night – in prayer. But they rarely show us how he prayed. The scene in Gethsemane gives us some rare clues.
Incidentally, if you ever get discouraged over how hard it is to hear God’s voice, bear in mind that even Jesus had to work at it. Whenever I feel like skimping on my prayer time in the morning, I think about how much time Jesus spent trying to discern God’s will and I ask myself, "Am I so much more spiritually attuned than Jesus that I can figure it out in five minutes?"
So what was Jesus doing with all that time? Likely, he was doing some version of what you were doing last week if you participated in our suggested prayer exercise. He was listening carefully to the many competing voices in his head – or what neuroscientist David Eagleman calls the "team of rivals." He was listening to his heart, sorting through the internal chatter until he found that still, small voice in the "heart of his heart."
Many of the voices Jesus encountered would have been similar to those we ourselves encounter. These are the archetypal voices – the voices that take the form of great figures of Greek mythology, animal spirits in Indian legend, tragic and comedic figures in operas, and form the basis of personality profiles ranging from the Myers-Briggs, to the Enneagram, to the Gallup Strengths Finder.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is trying to sort through his response to the events about to transpire. Should he flee? Should he fight? Should he acquiesce and be tortured and killed? The chatter in his head is flying around and he seeks a quiet place to sort the voices out.
Knowing full well that none of us can know what went through Jesus’ head in Gethsemane, I offer this speculation. I do not claim to have overheard Jesus’ voices so much as to have heard my own. Perhaps this will help you hear yours, too.
The Parent (thinking of Mary and Joseph): Jesus, our poor boy! This is what we have worried about the whole time. You were always headed for trouble. You’ve been doing great good, but how much good can you continue doing if you’re crucified? Come home! Flee for your life! Lay low until things calm down. You can work as a carpenter until a new administration takes over. Then you can go out preaching again if you feel it’s necessary.
The Free Child: I want my mom and dad! Something has gone wrong, terribly wrong! Why have people rejected me?? I was only trying to help them! I hurt so much. Who will comfort me now??
The Peer Group (thinking of Jesus’ disciples): How can you expect us to carry on if you are crucified? We can’t even stay awake while you pray, let alone carry the load of representing you when you’re gone! Please don’t surrender to the Romans, Jesus. Don’t desert us! We need you more than you can know! All we’ve worked so hard for will fall apart when you’re gone.
The Pragmatist: Jesus, you’d better wise up fast and get realistic! There is no value in staying. Did you ever hear that saying, "Johnny was right. Dead right. But now he’s as dead as he was right"? You’re no good to anyone dead. Except the religious authorities and the Romans. Your death will serve them, not God! Get out of town while you still can.
The Pessimist: It’s all over. No matter what happens, you’re ministry is through. Flee if you want. Stay if it makes you feel like a hero. Just know that everything you tried to accomplish is crumbling between your fingers – whether you live or die.
The Hero: Just say the word and ten thousand angels will be there to defend you! The scriptures have always spoken of the Messiah as Israel’s liberator! Don’t run away like a coward. And don’t succumb to the Romans like a coward, either! Now is the time to rise up and show Israel that their liberation is at hand!
The Accuser: Think of how nice your life could be if just disappeared into the landscape and lived a quiet life from now on? You could bring Mary Magdalene with you. You two could be married, raise a family together. This whole Messiah nonsense has all been one great big ego trip that needs to end before it’s too late. Get real! The real good in the world comes through people peacefully living in loving families. They don’t go looking for trouble. They mind their own business and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
The Holy Spirit: You cannot use logic to figure this whole thing out. Where do you hear the music playing? Do you hear it back in Nazareth? Or in Mary’s arms in some remote corner of Israel? Or in calling down legions of angels to defend you? Or on a cross? You know where you hear the music playing. And you know that you have always been able to trust where it calls you. You can trust it now, even when it seems like the craziest thing in the world to do. No, your death is not my doing. It is the world’s doing. But your death is also my response. When you go to that cross it will be the same as my being there. Your death is my death. And through our death, the world will come to see that there is a power far stronger than death – a power they can live for, and die for themselves. Do you trust that Love is stronger than Death? Then put your life where your heart is. The best way for you to change the world’s course is to let it do its worst to you and discover that Love wins.
True Self: "My Father, if all this cannot pass unless I drink the cup set before me, your will be done."
A curious thing happens when we find the Spirit’s voice and yield to its wishes. The other voices change. They calm down and begin to support the Spirit voice. Not all of them change necessarily – and the Accuser never does – but many do. They change because every voice but the Accuser’s is connected to God their deepest level. In the end, their deepest desire is to do God’s will. When hear it clearly, they become powerful allies.
Here’s how a few of them may have sounded within Jesus, once he heard the Spirit’s voice and surrendered to it:
Parent: Jesus, you know that we are not your true parents. God is the parent of all of us. As much as we love you and fear for your life, our highest joy is for you to find God’s will and do it. Even if you make a mistake, we will be proud of you. We will know that you died doing your best to serve the Author of Life.
Free Child: Abba! Abba! I am yours. I’ll go anywhere and do anything as long as you are with me; as long as I can rest in your arms.
Peer Group: We don’t understand why you are doing this, but we’ve never understood why you do most anything you have done, yet we’ve seen tremendous good come of it. We trust your judgment more than ours. Go and do what you must do. Just be understanding if we are weak in your hour of need. We will not be weak forever!
Pragmatist: The only thing that lasts and is truly real is God. Your following God is the most realistic thing you can do. Bottom line, you don’t have to know why God asks you to do this. You just have to know that God asks you to do this. You’ve done your due diligence. Now go and be brave
Hero: You were born to shock us into an awareness that not even your great heroes of old could understand or predict with any kind of clarity. Don’t act like a hero of old. Be the hero of the present and future.
The Accuser: Curses! Foiled again! (The Accuser voice can’t often sway the argument when all the other voices are in alignment like this – especially when they keep supporting the Spirit voice after many inward checks [Note: Jesus made at least three inner checks in the Garden of Gethsemane – read the passage again if you missed it!])
The True Self: Thy will has become my will. Thank you. While I will need you every step of the way forward if I am to make it through this, but I trust you. And I love you.
As you look toward this coming week, we invite you to find a question that’s nagging at you – one that’s quite specific to you and your life – and write it down. Then take 20-30 minutes and try writing in each of these voices. When you feel you have a sense of the Spirit’s voice, tell God that you will follow the voice if you receive confirmation that it’s truly from the Spirit. The way you will know and trust the voice is by how the other voices within you respond. Their response may not come all at once. Give them time. Your deepest desire of your truest Self is to do God’s will. If you get a sense of it, and surrender to it, many of the voices within you will cease talking and start singing.