Day 4, The Voice of the Wilderness is Love
In the wilderness, there is a quiet produced by the stripping away. It can be wonderful, and it can also be maddening. One of the reasons that God takes us into the wilderness is to speak to us. It is in the quiet that we can hear His still small voice. It is also in the quiet that we may begin to notice things in us rising to the surface … things that had been suppressed or stuffed down by the noisiness of life as we’d known it. In Hosea 2:14, God speaks to the people of Israel, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” He is never forceful or demanding but gentle and inviting. We hear His voice as we embrace the wilderness and all that it brings.
Listening and hearing from God is often a struggle. In speaking of what happened in Israel’s wilderness journey, God says in Psalm 81:11-13:
“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So, I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!”
God will not force us, and He will not shout over all the other noise. He desires so deeply for us to hear His tender voice … to listen to His heart more closely than the other voices that we might believe will give us clarity. The challenge for us can be a “stubborn heart,” or in the words of Psalm 95, a “hardened heart.” What might a hardened heart look like? Put very simply, we might say that it is a heart which is tuned in to other voices … for example, the voices of the past, the voices of expectation, the voices of other people. When we are listening to these voices, it can be noisy and frustrating, especially if we desire to hear the voice of God. But God never stops speaking. He is always present and always communicating.
The invitation is to detach from the other voices. Hardness of heart becomes a factor when we are attached to the other voices, when we have given them the space to lead us and take us off the path. The goal is not to necessarily get rid of other voices but to let release them … to not hold on to them. The other voices may linger but the noise lessens when we are no longer trying to manage them or control them or indulge them. We can do this by practicing a prayer of quiet. We simply sit quietly, seeking to be present to God’s presence with us. As various thoughts or impulses come into our awareness, we let them float on by like driftwood in a stream and center our attention again on God’s presence with us.
Over time, the voice of the Lord and our awareness of His presence becomes clearer and clearer. What we hear and what we begin to notice (often in ways that are beyond words, cf. Ephesians 3:19) is that He is present and that He loves us.
This brings us back to the third part of the rhythm of repentance: remembering. As we reflect on the various voices that may have our attention and then release them, God graciously speaks to us the truth of His love and our call to that path of love.
When everything else is gone, we find that we are left with love. And what we realize is that His love is enough. His love is our sustenance, our identity, our reference point. To try to define the love of God can be difficult because it is something beyond knowledge. At the same time, we might best equate it with the word “presence.” He will never “leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) The name Jesus was given before His birth was Immanuel which means “God with us.” Presence … His abiding presence … is His love. As we grow in the awareness of His presence, we become more and more grounded in His love.
And it is presence in the midst of the mess … in the middle of the wilderness. It is not something we experience after things are cleaned up or when we have act together, but something now. The very things (our sin, our failings, our distractions) which we have believed keep us distant from God become the points of connection. Jonathan Maury, SSJE, says it so well: “Through repentance and faithful belief in the good news, we acknowledge our own failings –which become the paradoxical means to union with God and one another through Jesus’ call.”
As we reflect and release, then we begin to remember the truth. The truth that He is with us. He loves us. He sings over us with joy and quiets us with His love. (Zephaniah 3:17) The one who is leading us is the One who is always present … always loving … always speaking to us.
Questions for reflection: are there other voices to which you listen? What is it like for you to consider that God speaks to you tenderly? How might you begin to detach from other voices so you can more clearly hear the voice of love?
Prayer: Lord, I want to listen to Your voice above any others. I desire to live in Your love. Give me eyes to see that You are singing over me with joy. Amen.