When the Divine Speaks
Posted: Tue, 12 Jan 2021 11:19
In this week's Catholic Teacher Article, Mike details the importance of listening to the Lord.
Since my undergraduate days, I have been attracted to the mystics. The mystics speak with a gentle authority, which comes from an experiential knowing. Through their attentive seeking they have attained a union with God that is infinitely possible. The mystic way is open to all; it is not something that is beyond the "normal" person. Far from it, the mystic way is a path that all can tread through contemplation and interior silence, which gives the space to listen to God. In his most celebrated work, "Dark Night of the Soul", John of the Cross narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God. The journey is called "Dark Night", because darkness represents the hardships and difficulties the soul meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. It's a work that is relevant to our current situation in education, with many of us feeling detached amid the current hardships.
Many of us have had times when we have faced our "dark night of the soul", feeling that we are far from the light, isolated and detached from God. In our current situation, I think that we all need to take time to pause and open up to inner silence and listen. Part of the process is listening to the signs of the voice of God and reading the signs that the Lord offers. A number of years ago, I was having a difficult time not truly knowing what the next step was for me. The inner pressure I put myself under to "progress" towards senior leadership was becoming a total preoccupation that was not allowing me to enjoy the present moment. I turned up at St James Bootle and the kindly Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB offered me some quiet time in the chapel. Amid the tears and the rage, and in need of comfort, I opened what I thought was a Bible. What I actually opened was "Memories of the Oratory". The page I had opened was the account of St Don Bosco and Bartholomew Garelli. This account of complete loving kindness and compassion towards disadvantaged young people touched me to my soul. God truly spoke through the narrative. It was clear that senior leadership may come, yet it can wait; be patient and live in the present reality. In this moment of clarity, I could see that the Divine was whispering in my ear saying, "Your vocation is to love young people. Be patient and live in the now. Do not let fear destroy the present." That evening I had entered the chapel in the dark and walked out in the light.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the birthday of the Salesians, I found myself entering St James in a dark mood. The fears of what will come in a Covid-19 world and the stress of the hardest first term I have ever faced were weighing heavily on my mind and soul. And if I am honest, I felt like giving up on teaching. In his homily, Fr Jim Gallagher SDB preached on the Bartholomew Garelli encounter. And once again, I was transported to that dark chapel. Once again, the Lord spoke through the loving kindness of Don Bosco. As with my previous encounter, things suddenly became clear! Covid-19 is tough and will likely get tougher. School is hard at the moment, yet there is more laughter than tears. I had the realisation that life is not perfect. Yet life can be great when we live in the present moment. God was letting me know that projecting my fears and hopes into the future is not wise. Through the gentle words of Don Bosco, God spoke to me. And I listened and was happy.
Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Go to the Limits of Your Longing" reminds me of this encounter:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, I, 59.
In the months to come, if you are experiencing your own dark night, stop and look at the signs the Lord is offering you, and listen with your soul. Remember these words:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don't let yourself lose me.
When the Divine speaks, we should listen.