by Karen Webber
I made a move last month. Actually, it was the final of a series of moves. This was the 6th move in 4 years, the 3rd in 6 months, and the 2nd in 1 month. The preceding month had been a bit crazy. My husband and I had been in Sweden to visit our son for a couple of weeks, then one week after we arrived back from the trip, we moved from an apartment in Vancouver to a house in Vancouver. One week after that, I was off to Kelowna where I had two weeks to pack a house that had been our home since 1990, where our children had essentially been raised.
There wasn’t the luxury to putter away for a few weeks prior to this intense time of focus. “o chance to sort and get rid of things in anticipation of the packing. This was all out intensity. It definitely was abit over the top.
To complicate things – in my mind, at least – our house had not yet sold. An offer had fallen through, and so while I was packing, the house was being shown. So much for my rule and for my times of quiet with God, let alone being reflective while I worked. I am a number one on the enneagram scale. Apparently when number ones get focused, they are unstoppable. I was a woman with a mission! I found that when I was faced with the intensity of the demands of the task, I became so task focused, I was consumed. None of the anticipated being aware of God’s presence and what God would have me notice in the closing of that chapter was happening. From the moment I awoke until I fell into bed I had an assignment. It was consuming and it was exhausting.
And then it happened. As I was leaving the house at 7am for a pilates class on my 5th full day there, I flicked the on button to the cd player in the car. And God spoke to me in stereo, in surround sound, while I was a captive audience in the car. These were the words that were cued up for me at that moment. ‘Are you tired, overburdened, are you anxious about tomorrow? Are you spinning round in circles, lost your focus, lost your ground?’ My attention was riveted by this point. I had never so strongly identified with those words as I did in that moment.
And then I heard something I had not heard before. Has this ever happened to you where you have heard something on a cd and you haven’t been able to figure out what the words were and you often have to go to the liner notes to read the words in order to hear them the next time? I had kept this particular cd in the car, and when this song would come on, I’d think ‘I really must check the liner notes to see what she is saying’ but would never think to do so once I had stopped driving.
Anyway, there was no difficulty on this day to hear. What I heard, clearly and to me, was: ‘Look at me. (Those were the words I could never figure out what they were. What I pictured at that moment was a mother gently placing her hands on her child’s face, turning it toward her and saying –‘look at me while I’m speaking to you’.) Look at me. Rest your soul in My loving gaze. My love surrounds you, rest in in Me. I’m not tired, not overburdened. I’m not anxious about tomorrow. I’m the stillpoint at the centre. I’m your resting place this hour.’
I was so overcome with emotion that God would continue to invite me to Himself so tenderly and so personally, in a way that I could hear, in the moment that I needed to hear – and God’s voice to me had absolutely nothing to do with me doing things right, with me setting aside time for an intentional prayer time or being disciplined in turning my thoughts to listening for God’s voice.
And in that moment, the wall that had been placed, unintentionally, around any emotional involvement with the move and house selling, because I was so task focused and had to get a job done, started to crumble. And I was able to sit in God’s presence with the pain – the pain of the exhaustion, of the uncertainty of the future, of the loss, and just rest in His love. The last line of the song is a response from the receiver. ‘You take all the shadows out of me’. That’s exactly what happened as I continued to be conscious of God’s love surrounding me that day.
Anne Lamott says ’Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.’ In the safety of God’s love, I was released to notice the mess, the emptiness and the discomfort, and I was released to feel it and to sit with it in God’s loving presence.
As the words kept resounding ‘Look at me’, the intensity of the mess loosened its grip on me. It was still there, but did not have the same control over me. Something changed as I rested my soul in God’s loving gaze.
As I reflect on this story, I suspect there are some universal applications for the person who is seeking to live relationally with God and have ones heart set in motion. Of course it’s that relationship that will provide the underpinning or the landscape for the specific detail of your tapestry whether that involves offering spiritual direction or not. Many days had passed before I was conscious of God’s voice or of God’s work. Sometimes the work of God is not entirely clear to us in the moment, or even within the context of a day, or many days put together. That doesn’t mean that God is not involved – we just don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear at that moment. Waiting may be part of the process.
The invitation to me here is to trust that God is present and active even when I don’t see a lot of evidence that would indicate so. This particular experience happened during a time of pure slog. In the middle of the stuff of life, with all the mess and distractions. There was certainly nothing about the setting or the circumstance that cried out ‘this is consecrated ground’. But that is what God has to work with and when God uses it, it is holy.
A few years ago, these words written by Jean Paul Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence deeply moved me: ‘What God arranges for us to experience is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us.’ An extension of this occurs in the Principle and Foundation of week one of the Ignatian exercises. “All things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully”. This is absolutely mind boggling. Every experience can be holy!? Every experience can be the means to get to know God better!? The mess and the emotional chaos of a move. The frustration of a computer breakdown. The disappointment and grief over lost or altered dreams. The hard places of being a bystander to the ones we love. The list goes on. Creativity is certainly not lacking in God’s repertoire.
One other observation is that it is God, in love, who pursues us and invites us using whatever means we can hear. It is not something we orchestrate or control by our cleverness or piety or our newly acquired SoulStream certificate in the Art of Spiritual Direction. You may be a part of God’s invitation for someone if God so chooses, but you also may need to just watch and wait. It’s within the context of that safe place held in God’s love that we can face into pain and not shy away from it. And so this is not new, these thoughts that God is present even when we don’t see evidence of that being the case, that God uses our circumstances to show Himself to us, and that it is God who pursues, invites and holds us in love – you have no doubt heard this over and over again during the past two years and before.
That’s the thing about living with God. Some of the themes and lessons are not new. We just need to hear them and learn them over and over again in different ways, in different circumstances, in different skin. The last (and first) time I was at King’s Fold was in 1978. That was when I was gripped by the hymn ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say, come unto me and rest’. I’m still hearing the same theme almost 30 years later. I must be a slow learner! My prayer is that you will hear the words of God for you when you need to hear them, that you will be sustained by the love of God as you live and that you will learn to rest in God’s loving gaze.
I will close with this poem – prayer, written by Dr. Paul Beckingham of Carey Theological College (used with permission).
rest your head
upon the bosom
press your ear
close into his chest
what do you hear
beyond the gentle rise
the zephyr fall
of ribbed lungs?
listen for Creator’s breath
caged within creation
rising … falling
dressed in skin
can you hear
the measured throb
marking tentative time?
do you feel
the tempo of
pay heed as your name
is placed upon you
see you’re given face
receive it as your gift
in breaking rhythms
from the giver