Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reflections from Spiritual Formation on the Run (2)

More meditations from Pastor Paul Long

Here's chapter 12 from Alex Tang's
"Spiritual Formation on the Run" and some of my reflections. (BTW, I hope to blog on chapter 13 in a few weeks as they are closely related .... )

The Silence in the Noise

A legend has it that there was a temple built on an island which held a thousand bells, big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsmen in the world. Whenever the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that send the heart of the hearer into raptures.

But over the centuries, the island sank into the sea, and with it, the temple bells. It is said that the bells continued to peal out ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listen. Inspired by this legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, facing the vanished island, and listened with all his might. But all he could hear was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out. But to no avail, the sound of the sea seemed to flood his world.

He kept at his task for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village elders who spoke with passion of the mysterious legend. Then his heart will be aflame... only for him to be discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.

Finally, he decided to give up. Perhaps he was not destined to hear the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea, the sky, the wind, and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time listened to the sound of the sea. Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence the sound produced.

In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The twinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another, and another.., and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.

This story teaches us two important lessons about listening and awareness. First, all of us have a desire to hear God's voice. We want to hear what he is saying to us. We want him to speak peace and comfort to our trials and tribulations. We have been taught early in our Christian life to set aside time for prayer and Bible reading. We call it the "quiet time.” We are told that if we have our quiet time regularly, we will hear the voice of God. If not audibly, at least we know that he speaks to us in answered prayers or through the Bible passages we read.

Two things can happen with our quiet time. One is that we come too busy and do not have time to pray and read the Bible. Then we feel guilty, and we think we have lost the opportunity to hear God's voice. The other possibility is that we continue faithfully in our prayer and Bible reading, but we find it dry and boring after a while. We also find that we do not hear God speaking to us. We must be aware that God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks to us through Word. He also speaks to us in our prayers, through other people, circumstances and dreams, and in our daily living.

For those of us who are too busy for prayer and Bible reading, aware that God still speaks to us in our busy lives. For those who disciplined in prayer and Bible reading, be careful that we do not try too hard. Like the young man on the beach who tried so hard to hear the bells by consciously shutting out the ocean sounds, we too may try too hard to hear God's voice. In the spiritual life, it is not the effort that counts. Spiritual growth is not something we build, but who we become. Sometimes, we try too hard in our spiritual life. For example, we want to have faith. Now, faith is not something we can create. There is nothing we can do to make us have more faith. Faith is a gift, something that only God can give. The only thing we can do is ask God for it.

Many of us live hectic, busy and noisy lives. A recent scientific study showed that cities have a high level of ambient noise. This level of noise can be disruptive to our well-being if we are exposed to it for too long. The noise can also cause deafness. Yet it is in our hectic, busy and noisy lives that God speaks to us. Unfortunately, many of us are already deaf to him because we have not learnt to embrace the noise until we can hear the silence within. The noisy world is like a weather storm, a typhoon. There is always a centre called the "eye" of the storm. This "eye" is a calm, quiet and peaceful area within the raging storm. We must learn to be aware of the noise around us. We can embrace the noise of the world and move beyond it into the silence within. It is in this silence that we hear the voice of God.

How do we not try too hard, and enter into the silence of our busy and noisy lives? We begin by being aware that God is in our busy and noisy lives. God is not only just present in church on Sunday. We do not leave God behind when we leave the church building after a service. God is not only present in our daily lives, but he is also speaking to us all the time. Speaking to God is prayer and Paul has taught us to pray "unceasingly." This means that it is possible to be speaking and listening to God 24/7. Since God is already with us, there is no need to try too hard to reach him. If possible, set aside some time for him alone; this is your quiet time. If not, listen for him in the happenings of your daily lives. Try to be aware of God's presence and voice in the routine, mundane activities of your daily lives. Catch a glimpse of God in a sunrise, a beautiful flower, a friendly smile, a loving touch, an opportunity to offer help, and an opportunity to receive help. When we become aware of God's presence in our lives, each encounter is dazzling, like a sudden burst of joy. Time seems to stand still. There a deep, warm silence. And in the silence you will hear the voice of God who calls you his beloved. It is possible to hear the harmony of a thousand bells.

BTW this chapter was "coincidentally" related to my last Sunday's sermon. :-) How amazing is that? To me it is, ok? :-)

I have been well aware of the fact for a long time that God speaks to us in that quiet gentle voice when we learn to be silent. Verses like "Be still and know that I am God", powerful episodes like God speaking to Elijah when he was depressed .... It has been a good reminder for me that in the hustle and bustle of life, I need to be aware of the noise around me and find God in the centre . As I reflected on this Psalm 29 added for me an additional perspective - that God can also be found in the noise and chaos! The LORD is in in control of all the "violence" and is Almighty. The more chaotic things are, the more I can be assured that God is still in control! Sounds contradictory I know but .... not sure how to express it :-)

I love to the reminder that I can and should try to catch a glimpse of God in everyday things like a smile, the sunrise etc. For me God blessed me by opening my eyes to something I have always seemed to miss until just a couple of weeks ago. THE RAINBOW! (Yes, I know the colours are wrong :-))

Now everyday I look out for rainbows (as it is the rainy seasons) and almost every day I see rainbows! NZ rainbows are incredible, I must try to carry a camera with me and take one and post it up! In Malaysia, I mostly see small incomplete looking faint faded looking ones. Here they are HUGE and WIDE so clear. I think it must have something to with the better air quality, and the fact that there are more areas where the land is level as well as the very low angle of the sun can be blinding) a few hours after sunrise and before sunset. It's as if the rainbows end is actually touching the ground.

Wow ... long post so I had better end here with this great true story from an old copy of Leadership magazine that has stuck to my mind for 20 years or more now. I can't find the actual original wordings now so excuse me if you have seen it elsewhere. This is my years of retelling of the story, adding my own sensory details :-) ...

Two friends were walking together along one of the busiest streets of New York city, during peak hours when the city was at its busiest and nosiest. As they were walking, one of them (who happened to be a Native American Indian ... a Sioux I think) suddenly stopped, grabbed his friend's hand and said, "Hey, wait, I hear a cricket!" His friend (sorry it is the white guy!) looked at his friend with disbelief and said, "You can hear a cricket? Here in the middle of the busiest street in NY city?" You got to be crazy. There's no a cricket here and even if there was, there's no way you can hear a cricket in the midst of all this noise. Why we can barely hear each other talking!"

His friend, unperturbed responds, "There is a cricket somewhere here. I tell you, I can hear it." He stops, listens intently and then with his friend moves towards a street light where there is a small plant next to it. They both bend down to look and to the amazement of his friend, there it was, a small cricket!

His friend looks at him with amazement and asks, How could you hear that tiny cricket in the midst of all this noise?" His Native American Indian friend looks at him with a smile and says, "You can if you ears are tuned to listen for such sounds." And then he continues, "Let me show you something". He puts his had in his pocket and takes out some loose change. Then he deliberately opens his hand and lets the coins drop. And immediately the people hurrying in the streets to get to their destinations, instinctively stop and their all eyes turn towards the sound of the coins hitting the pavement.

The man turns to his friend with a smile and says, "Despite their busyness and all the noise, people stopped and looked. It all depends on what our ears are tuned to listen for."

Paul's other reflections:
Omission and Commission
A Burning Bush

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