I’ve been thinking all week about how Jonah’s story relates to the theme of sacred space--that quiet place where we hear God’s voice and encounter Love in ways that often go unnoticed in the day-to-day business of our lives. God is always speaking and always loving; but more often it is taken for granted. We aren’t listening. Sacred spaces provide a place for what the monastics call “attentive waiting” and remind us of God’s voice and presence in the mundane as well as in the extraordinary. Away from all our doings and beings--our roles, responsibilities, and identities that make up our sense of self--we listen to the Spirit. The text isn’t clear about Jonah’s reasons or justifications for running from God, but as Pastor Dave illustrated for us on Sunday, Jonah likely had ideas about what was good for him, what he should do, how he should live. God’s plan didn’t make sense, so he went with his own. Jonah heard but didn’t listen; he rationalized and justified; he told himself all kinds of stories. So God brought him to a place of silence, a place set apart from all the distractions and excuses, a place where all the voices would be silent. And Jonah called out to God through the psalms, attentively waiting for God’s response.
This is the essence of sacred space. It is a space where we let go our false selves--all those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves--and actively listen. God invites us to this space, to let everything else fall away; all our own desires, all our own expectations and senses of responsibility or rationality; to a place where we can no longer listen to the stories we tell ourselves. We see them for what they are. And he calls us to listen. I am in that place. I am in the belly of the beast. Listening. “Attentively waiting” and “actively listening” to the Spirit’s nudge. And what I’ve learned is that this is a good space. It is where Love meets me at my truest self. I am vulnerable, but I am loved. The part in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind where the children ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver whether Aslan the lion is safe, and the response is “Safe? [ . . . ] Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
It is in this space that we learn the dynamic quality of prayer as a spiritual discipline. Henri Nouwen says
[It] is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us. . . A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear . . . A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced (67, 68).
He goes on to say that it is “through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen. A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us.” (68). Recall that Romans 8:23 says that even when we don’t know how or what to pray, the Spirit is praying “in us and through us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs and aching groans.”
I want to talk more about prayer as a spiritual discipline in the coming days and how it relates to sacred space and to Jonah’s story, but I want to ask if you would join me in intentionally carving out space in your day to listen. Praying through the psalms is a great way to do that. You could use Job’s prayer (2:1-10) or one of the psalms listed on the bulletin from Sunday (also listed below). You could also join me in praying the Divine Office (or part of it) here is the link: http://www.missionstclare.com/. There is also an app you can download for your phone, which has been really nice for when I’m out walking through the woods or waiting in the car to pick up the kids.
And finally, if you have any thoughts on Jonah’s story, on praying the psalms, or on learning to listen to God’s voice feel free to respond in the comments section. If folks are wanting to have a kind of online dialogue going, that is welcomed as well. I will leave you with a song and a psalm. The song is by Gungor titled, “You Have Me” (link below). As you listen, notice how the lyrics echo Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalms from Sunday:
Gungor. 2009. “You Have Me” Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpATmuPr84Q
Norris, Kathleen. 1996. The Cloister Walk. Riverhead Books: New York.
Nouwen, Henri. 1981. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. Harper Collins: New York.