Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Learning the Language of God
Back at the beginning of the millennium I was trying to discern if I had a call to the ordained priesthood. I thought that it would be great to have a “Road to Damascus” experience i.e., hearing a voice from heaven perhaps with even a heavenly light show to make sure I was paying attention. However, I can say that I did not receive a message in any way that was like that. In the end I decided that the only way to test out a calling was to make a commitment to the journey to ordination. Talking to fellow students during my years at Huron College, I discovered that no one had that kind of a message either. Looking back I think that I am grateful not to have gone through what Paul experience on that road including being knocked off my mode of transportation and having scales cover my eyes for three days.
I did receive affirmation of my decision in many ways but not specifically in a Road to Damascus way. God does speak to us in many different ways which are not necessarily as dramatic or as clear as what Paul experienced. One experience I had which I believe affirmed my decision occurred just after I had an interview with the Dean of Theology, John Chapman (now Bishop of Ottawa) as part of the process to enter the M. Div. program. The interview went well and when it was finished I got into my car to drive home. The car radio was tuned to CBC as usual and the program involved an interview with three clergy who had been ordained later in life. This certainly fit my experience as I was in my early fifties at the time.
This experiences was for me synchronistic—a term coined by Carl Jung. Synchronicity is, simply put, a significant coincidence. They can be easily dismissed by skeptics as mere coincidence and of no significance other than pure chance. However, I understood it as a pointer from the divine that I was on the right course. By itself it would not be enough to make a serious life-changing decision in life. However, it was one indication that I should continue on this new path and see other signs God might send me.
I believe and have faith that God is speaking to us in many different ways today as God always has. However, we have not been taught to recognize them. Our culture does not generally recognize many of these ways. We need to relearn as a culture and individuals how God does speak to us and how to interpret what might be called the language of God. One way which I particularly favour is the language of dreams. Dreams have been called “God’s forgotten language”—a phrase of John Sanford’s, an Episcopal priest and Jungian Analyst and also a title of his very good introduction to dream work.
There are many other ways such as Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina (Holy Listening), and walking the Labyrinth. My approach to Spiritual Direction is to help directees to identify how God is speaking to them and to help them more fully experience and understand how God is working in their lives. We are each unique children of God and so we are each more receptive to different way in which God is speaking to us. For instance, my wife Lorna, whose primary way of receiving information is through the five senses, uses that outer input in her inner world. She is an ISTJ on the Myers Briggs Type Scale i.e. Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging.
I, on the other hand, am not as in tune with the outer world as many who know me will attest—especially Lorna. My primary way of receiving information is by intuition, being an INFJ on the Myers Briggs Type Scale i.e. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging. This difference means that we are naturally oriented differently to how God is speaking to us. For instance, Lorna finds walking the Labyrinth to be very meaningful as a form of walking prayer. The experience of walking the labyrinth does not resonate with me to the same extent. Rather I find Centering Prayer to be a very meaningful way.
This does not mean that we do not use both forms as a part of our spiritual practices. I do walk the Labyrinth and Lorna does Centering Prayer. However, it is not the preferred method in each case. We both pay attention to our dreams as a way of see if our lives on the course God intends for us. We both keep dream journals and try to understand the meaning of our dreams or as Lorna says, “don’t you mean the message”?
The most important thing in all this is to be open to how God is speaking to you and pay attention to the things that you believe God is saying. This is not always clear and it can be helpful to have someone to help you in that journey such as a clergy person, spiritual director or counsellor. Blessings,