by Rev. Eric Elnes, Ph.D.
In the 4th Century, St. Augustine observed that the path to knowing God and the path to knowing oneself is the same path. He knew this because he had done his own soul searching and regularly discovered the voice of the Divine within the many voices vying for his attention – which was as much of a surprise to him as anyone else.
In my last post, I wrote about nine archetypal voices that were swirling around in my head as I wrestled with the temptation to break my diet and eat a giant chocolate chip cookie at Panera last Saturday. While I was considering the cookie I discovered that my thoughts had drifted to my daughter Arianna. Thinking of Arianna and how happy she is in Argentina broke the spell of my fixation on the cookie. These thoughts filled me with a sense of joy and peace that was greater than the cookie could have supplied. With the spell broken, my True Self – that part of me that represents my will when it is completely free and not reacting to anything – decided that I didn’t need the cookie. In fact, it reminded me that I’d already gloried in a few (over-)indulgences the night before.
These thoughts of Arianna that came to me completely out of the blue represent what I consider to be the voice of Spirit. Of course, I can’t know for sure that it was the Holy Spirit talking to me. But what I do know for sure is that the Holy Spirit speaks to us far more often in ways that seem perfectly mundane, subtle, organic to our thinking than in moments where we’re thunderstruck. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak from the mountain-top nearly as often as it speaks from the parking lot, or the chair in the den, or at the Panera counter.
You may counter: “But why would God waste time helping you in your struggle with a cookie when God doesn’t seem to have time to stop wars or end world hunger?”
The fact of the matter is that if you are going to insist on God acting in ways that override free will, break natural law, and solve all your problems without involving you in any significant way, you’re going to be waiting a very long time before you see any action – probably forever. Yet if you start looking for God’s activity within you, more as a quiet whisper than a clanging gong, you’re going to find plenty of evidence of God’s activity in the world. In fact, you’ll find far more evidence than you’ll ever want to admit.
You won’t want to admit that God can and does speak to you because God’s voice scares the hell out of some of the other voices within you – literally! While God doesn’t call everyone to be a peacemaker, how would some of the voices within you react if you did hear God calling you into peacemaking? How would The Pragmatist react? Or The Pessimist? Or The Adversary? God seems to call all of us to do far lesser things – like tithe – and other voices start screaming bloody murder so fast that we never give the Spirit a chance. We never give it a chance to fill us with the awe, wonder, and sense of safety and assurance we would need to consider responding to its call.
There’s a reason why the voice of the Holy Spirit has been called The Comforter, even by Jesus. Its because even when the Spirit is calling us into difficult or risky situations, it also gives us real knowledge that we’ll be alright; that what we will gain by following will be far greater than the sacrifice we are asked to make; and that we’re being guided on a path that brings us most fully alive in this world – a path that our Truest Self yearns for with heart and soul.
The beautiful truth is that once we admit that the evil we see and experience in this world is the result of our failure to follow God’s voice rather than God’s failure to speak, we start becoming the change we seek in the world. We can make an inward turn away from the voices of fear and self-loathing and toward the voice of the Spirit that whispers to the heart of our hearts. Without the fear and loathing drowning out the Spirit’s voice, we hear more of the assurance it offers. We develop a yearning to follow that voice. And when we do, we become more fully alive in this world.
Sometimes it takes hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice to us in small, “insignificant” situations – like wrestling with temptation to break a diet with a cookie – in order to open a channel inside that can hear the Spirit calling us to act in more significant ways – like becoming peacemakers.
Does this ring true to your experience?