By Kathleen T. Choi
I hear voices. No, I'm not crazy — or no crazier than you are. We're all continually bombarded with messages from the world around us.
We usually start the day with the news, and it's usually bad. Health care costs keep rising, the Middle East may explode, and we've ruined the environment. After the headlines, we get a rape in India, a train crash in Argentina and another estranged husband shooting his family. It's a wonder we don't go right back to bed.
Accompanying the news are the advertisers' voices telling us that we are inadequate. We're not sexy enough, rich enough or having enough fun. Our only hope is a new car, more medication and lunch at McDonald's.
Other voices speak in the workplace. One cries, "Do whatever it takes to get ahead." Another sneers, "They don't pay me enough to care." And there's always a chorus complaining about unfair bosses, lousy working conditions and selfish co-workers.
The voices are quieter at home but still insistent. The kids want something they expect us to supply. Our spouse is disappointed with us and happy to explain why. We share one house but are isolated by cell phones, games, computers and multiple TVs.
If we were suddenly struck deaf, though, we'd still hear voices. Somewhere in our mind, Mom still worries about our manners, and Dad's still warning that money doesn't grow on trees. That evil teacher still says we'll never amount to anything and Father X is still angry that we criticized the church.
Even our conscience gets in the act. We should eat less and exercise more. We should read the Bible more and donate more to charity. We know we commit the same sins over and over, and we fear that God is tired of forgiving us.
But how do we know what God is thinking? We seldom sit still and listen. We lack the essentials — silence and solitude. This is where clergy and religious have the advantage. No one looks at them strangely if they say they need time alone to pray and meditate.
For most of us, praying means saying something to God. We seldom give God time to reply. True, he does sometimes break into our mind's chatter with a quick word of comfort or caution. More often, though, we're like the prophet Elijah (1 Kgs 19). First, we have to spew out all our complaints. Then we begin the long journey to a sacred place within our souls.
We hope for a message as exciting as wind, dramatic as an earthquake or splendid as lightning. More often, when we've about given up hope, we sense "a light silent sound." Our mind clears, our spirit settles and we feel God's presence.
That kind of prayer is hard work, and it takes time. Our bodies get restless. Our minds come up with numerous important tasks to do instead. The silence feels empty, as if God doesn't exist or doesn't care. We may not even hear that small still voice.
Then, days later, a Bible passage or a friend's advice strikes us with the conviction that this is God's answer. Or perhaps, once we are calmer and focused on doing God's will, the solution becomes obvious.
This kind of prayer requires planning. It has to be a priority. We might have to ask our family's indulgence (and feel a little silly). We might have to get up before the family or take a walk without earbuds. However, it's the best way I know to turn down the other voices and hear the one that feeds my soul.
Posted July 16, 2013