Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Our Senses and Prayer

I was recently struck by a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins I had not read before, The Habit of Perfection.  It was written early in his career and so several commentators do not see it as refined a work as his later poetry, but I find it of incredible value when viewed through the lens of prayer and interaction with God.  Hopkins was a devoted Christ-follower, so it is entirely appropriate to read his work with Christ and discipleship in view.

As a whole, the poem treats all our bodily senses ironically as means of interacting with God.  As a result it is good advice to the believer who is wondering how to pray.  The first stanza:

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon by whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Here, we catch a glimpse into how to use our ears to better hear God - and we begin with the fact that our ears are battered with cacophony, and thus are tuned to hear all the wrong things.  We grow accustomed to the constant din of meaningless - or even worse, destructive - noise.  We learn to process meaninglessness because we listen to it all the time.

So the power of silence becomes the power of re-tuning our ears to hear "The music that I care to hear."  Ironically, in silence from the noise of this world we find another song, and this time it is a symphony instead of cacophony, and our ears become attuned to a different sound.  God is not in the whirlwind of advertising or the earthquake of 24/7 news and social media.  He can be heard, however, in a whisper.  But I can only hear a whisper in silence and when I am listening for that voice.

Silence takes time.  Most of us are unaccustomed to silence - many of us find it hard to find.  But we ought to cultivate it.  For the good of our minds and souls we should find ways to disconnect from the noise of the world around us and learn to listen for a different voice.  Take the Word of God with you into silence - not to be read, but held in your mind and heart.  God has spoken through his written Word and the more comfortable you are with that language, the better positioned you will be to hear his spoken Word.

The music of the other world is beautiful - beautiful and transformative.  Find it and your life may begin to sing it.

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