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Center for Action and Contemplation
Listening to Creation
Listening to Creation

Where the Spirit Speaks

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Theologian Randy Woodley tells of being invited by a friend to a contemplative prayer gathering: 

I came one time and they sat around in a room that was completely closed with orange shag carpeting. There were no windows. You could tell the carpet was old, and the idea was to sit there and listen to the Spirit. I sat through the gathering and a lot of silence. Afterwards my friend was smiling and asked, “How did you like it?” I said, “Well, to be honest, I didn’t like it…. Why weren’t you guys sitting outside? It’s a beautiful day out. You’re in this dark room.”   

Of course, there are a lot of different contemplative traditions when it comes to silence. In our Native way, we are more or less listening, not just to ourselves or what we would say the Spirit puts in our hearts, but to what’s going on around us. We’re listening to the birds to see what kind of message they have. We’re listening to the wind to see if there’s a song in it for us. It might sound esoteric, but we’re listening to the way that we “spin in silence” by hearing what I believe is perhaps Creator’s most communicative means on earth—which is creation.   

I think of that when I read Luke chapter 4, the story where Jesus goes out into the wilderness for forty days. The idea we’ve been taught is that he is tempted for forty days, but everybody knows that you can’t be tempted for forty days. Let’s say the temptations took up ten days—well, what about the other thirty? What was he doing? Jesus was watching creation. He was observing what was going on around him. He was listening. The reason that we know that is because when he comes back, he talks about creation for the rest of his life. He talks about flowers and birds and trees and seeds and crops and the earth, and the soil. He could have talked about all kinds of things—Roman chariots and their power and aqueducts and the ingenuity involved—but that’s not what we have a record of. What we have a record of is someone who seemed to be at peace with the quietness of creation.… 
The Spirit is so contrary to what we might think or desire sometimes. At one time in my life, it was like every time I wanted to hear from God, God would speak through some person. And every time I wanted wisdom from a person, I couldn’t get it, and I could only hear it in silence from God…. When I go out and I listen in creation and I’m listening to the birds, then all of a sudden the Spirit speaks in my heart. It’s not necessarily always silence. Engaged listening is such a sacred thing, and the Spirit works through that so often.  

Adapted from Randy Woodley and Brian McLaren, “Engaged Silence,” Essentials of Engaged Contemplation, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2024. Presentation for the Living School. 

Image credit and inspiration: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Awe is as close as the way a butterfly alights on a flower in the yard outside.  

Story from Our Community:  

There is a member of my church who has always been difficult for me…. Sometimes, interacting with her takes every bit of patience I have. Through reading the Daily Meditations, I have actually come to see her as a teacher. I’m finding compassion by understanding that her way of being results from personal pain. Slowly, I have come to appreciate this woman’s gifts, which are many, and even occasionally seek out her company. I am coming to understand how she enriches my life. It’s a blessing I never expected. —Sarah S. 

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