Spirit Quest

 
What my spirit needs . . .
 
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective
 
“Amen”
 
I am aware that this four letter word usually comes at the end of a prayer or homily. In this case, however, it refers to the title of a recently published book  by Gretta Vosper which deals with prayer. Rev. Vosper calls herself a Progressive Christian and writes and ministers in a church in Toronto. It is both a thorough study and provocative and deeply moving essay. She says that prayer is at the very heart of every religion.
 
People of faith pray, that is, communicate with God. Roman Catholics tend to believe that God best understands Latin. Thus when the pope calls the faithful to prayer he intones  “Oremus.”
 
Anglicans, of course, believe that God’s linguistic preference is Elizabethan English, which is undeniably very beautiful but hardly a living language anymore except in theatres that specialize in Shakespearian drama.
 
Baptists from the deep south and their imitators in the north, believe in verbal speed, repetition, demanding, grovelling,  and reminding God of what he/she has promised, all of course, with a southern twang.
 
Jews have no doubt that Elohim prefers Hebrew. Nodding one’s head and body in time to the words certainly helps catch His attention, and it is most definitely a He.
 
Muslims  believe that  prone and facing towards Mecca is imperative in prayer. However, if you are a woman it doesn’t really matter which way you face, Allah isn’t prone to listen. 
 
That’s it for the great monotheistic faiths. There are of course many other religions each with their own peculiar form of contacting the divinity or the great Void as in Buddhism probably the most widespread religion in the world. Prayer means talking to God. But what about listening? Is prayer a one way conversation? Someone freshly exposed to religion certainly might think so.
 
A few years ago I travelled to northern Saskatchewan with a film crew intent on turning my book Uprooted and Transplanted into a documentary film called Hitler’s German Foes. Thus we visited the rather remote area where my parents and our group of refugees attempted to eek out a living from the dirt. 
 
At one point our crew stood at a crossroad contemplating the best angle from which to capture a decrepit cabin which years ago might have been my home. The young camera man sidled over to me and whispered, “Listen, Hanns.”
 
“I can’t hear anything,” I replied.
 
“That’s precisely it,” he responded, “there is not a sound to be heard. I have never been in such a quiet place.”
 
Only when one encounters such silence does one become aware of the noise that constantly surrounds us. In an institute in Milwaukee, engineers have constructed a room containing all kinds of baffles made of sound absorptive material. It is reputed to be the quietest place on earth.  Nothing other than the thump of our blood pump and the rush of air in and out of our lungs can be discerned. A reporter found he could not remain in such silence for more than 45 minutes without severely straining his sanity.
 
We are constantly surrounded by sound, natural, but mostly man-made. The noise of machines, traffic, media of communication (?) and voices are an ever present reality.
 
If God wants to speak to us he/she has to penetrate a daunting sound barrier. If you are an atheist, it is of little concern, there is no god and it isn’t speaking or listening.
 
Undoubtedly the most disregarded biblical admonition is found in the Book of Psalms, chapter 46. At verse 10 we are told to “Be still....”
 
I am reminded of the person who commented on the minister’s call to worship: “God is in his holy temple, let all the world keep silence before him!”  And for the next hour his was a barrage of words.
 
The prophet Elijah having fled the avenging priests of Baal, the god of fertility, found refuge in the mountains. There he experienced storms with lightning and thunder, also earthquakes that shattered the rocks, forces of nature or of a God that humble us. In the Bible there are references to God using such phenomena to catch his aberrant people’s attention. However the writer of this story maintains that God was not in the storm or the earthquake, but in the “still small voice”  that followed.
 
The point I am struggling to make is the importance of silence. Years ago a medical doctor diagnosed my back pain as being caused not only by lifting a heavy suitcase out of the trunk of the car but also by stresses in my life, off the scale, she said. She then went on to teach me meditation to quiet my “soul”.
 
In this state of meditation I did not hear the divine in old English, Latin, or Hebrew, but I did sense a calming Presence and a peace that was rather new and most welcome to me who had considered the Sturm and Drang of life as a normal venue for living. Don’t we all. 
 
Do I really need to tell God, the all knowing, what he/she already knows, to persuade him/her to do what the divine already wants to do? Need I beg God to do for me and those I love what he/she  desires if that God is a loving divinity? 
 
Gretta Vosper in Amen, her recently published book, writes, “Deep, intentional, reflective prayer and its twin, meditation, have also been integral to the development of those portions of our brains that significantly enhance our ability to live empactful lives (the ability to empathetically impact others).... The outpouring of appreciation for all that surrounds us, and uplifts us, the expression of deepest remorse for our mistakes, the offering of sincerest gratitude for each gift that comes to us through the sources that transcend our own limited abilities, and the acknowledgment and conveyance of our deepest desires to one another are the contemporary equivalents of what has caused us to kneel in the past.”
 
What my spirit needs is to be still and to risk hearing and sensing  the Ground of All Being calling me to faithful and responsible living. Amen. 
 
 

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