Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Loud Quiet

It rained here on the mountain the other day.  Not the usual 10-minute summer downpour that coats the ground but does not filter very far into it.  Rather, this was one of those longer, deliciously sustained rains that goes all day long, interspersed with an occasional short pause to regenerate itself.  The kind that soaks into the ground and provides genuine nourishment to all that inhabits there.

We are fortunate to have guests and retreatants visit here on this remote, rural mountain.  Their question “Aren’t you bored here?” inevitably comes after a few hours of realizing there are no neighbors within sight, and virtually no human-generated sounds to detract from the continuous quiet.  (Even the birds chirp softly here.)  The answer is always No, because there is always something to do and experience here, and many fascinating people to interact with on those occasions when we seek each other out from our respective hideaways.  My life-long complaint about a lack of sufficient hours in the day is unchanged here.  It is just that removing the usual frenetic distractions and “to dos” of the urban “civilized” life allows one to be focused instead on the “worthwhiles to do.”  Worthwhiles that reclaim a more fundamental connection with the real essence of our being and the life we are truly meant to live.

Which brings me back to the rain.  I have always loved the rain.  There is a warmth and  comfort from being enveloped by it, a calmness from both the sight and the sounds of the rainfall.  Or, at other times, a reminder of the unrestrained power of God-through-Nature as the thunder announces its presence and the lightening illuminates the energy of the vast sky.

On this day, the rain fell like a continuous but gentle waterfall cascading down from the clouds.  I sat for hours under the protecting porch roof and watched the clouds gradually envelop all of my surroundings.  Sometimes starting in the valley, working its way up the mountainside before me, coming higher and higher until the tops of the distant multi-tiered ranges gradually disappeared into the arising mist, while simultaneously engulfing the house.  Other times, the clouds would start at the tops of the far ranges, gradually moving closer and dipping downwards to fill that same valley, now masked from view.  Then the clouds would slowly pull back, revealing the mountaintops and the valley floor once again, until the cycle would repeat itself.  

As the fog removed itself and revealed its hidden contents, linear strands of clouds would work their way in and out of the various ranges.  Sunlight would occasionally break through for brief moments, seemingly to remind us that there is always a brightness hidden behind the opaque veil typically in front of us, only to quickly disappear yet again.  Large solid clouds in the upper sky passed in review in changing light dark hues.  These clouds formed a parade of shapes and images, perfect representations of animals of every kind.  A side glance into the landscape of the endless trees below reveal a face, a person unknown, yet a spirit waiting to be acknowledged.  The fact that no one else looking at this scene sees these images does not diminish their very realness.

People travel distances and pay money to visit museums in order to see masterful landscape works of art.  And so they should, for they represent inspiring artistic forms.  Here on this mountain, I have the very good fortune to see in-person an ever-present gallery of landscapes.  And unlike a museum’s static display, Nature’s display is a constantly moving montage of visual imagery. A still life illuminated in movement.

When we remove the noise and distractions around us, and replace them with the natural sounds and visuals that come from Original Creation, then we are able to reconnect, however briefly, with our own Creation.  And ultimately to our own destiny.  Taking time and opportunity to lose our Self within such excursions into a larger Oneness creates the special moments that remind us of the truth of our spiritual existence, even in the reality of this human time.  Moments that nourish us, teach us deep meanings, direct us to our future.  And that is never boring.

©   2015   Randy Bell     

Thursday, August 6, 2015

God Speaks

God speaks.  To each of us.  Regularly.  Do we hear God speaking?

God speaks to us in a manner tailored for each of us so that we have the best opportunity to receive God’s personal messages.  God speaks in our own vernacular, even at the risk of not sounding “holy” enough to our ears.  (God does not speak in Hebrew in a 2000 year old dialect and cultural context to a person native to Japan.)

It is a somewhat tricky business, this God-speaking thing.  Many doubt that such a thing is even possible, except perhaps to a select few supra-divine mystics.  Yet many of us long for such conversations.  The challenge is separating ourselves from our doubts and accepting those divine conversations when they occur, while discerning those many ego moments when we invent such a pretend dialog out of our own imagination.  It is a subtle yet hugely significant distinction.

To some small number of people, God speaks directly.  Perhaps audibly to the ears, heard quietly in the mind.  Or perhaps in written narrative, 1:1 between God and the pen in hand, bypassing the filter of our mind in favor of the expressed Word.  These forms of direct communication with God work only if our heart and mind are open and ready to hear.

For some others, the conversation must come more indirectly through the voices of other intermediaries.  In the midst of an otherwise everyday normal conversation, with a person in a close relationship or even just a casual stranger, “something” is casually, almost offhandedly, said to us that inexplicably jumps out at us and grabs our attention.  Likely a single sentence within an otherwise unremarkable conversational paragraph.  Something of no noticeable significance to the speaker, but which is heard deep in an unknown place within us, leaving our path slightly but deliberately altered in that brief moment.  Hearing God in this way requires us to be alertly listening, to recognize those unexpected momentary but critical instances when they occur.  We do not hear God if we are the one doing all the talking.

Such moments as these are a more informal version of “channeling,” which is a three-party conversation between two participants.  God, through a speaker, comes into our ears; the middle party is not really part of the dialog.  The speaker’s mind is set aside for that briefest of time, out of the way of the conversation between God and us, simply providing a voice to God’s words which are flowing through them.

If our mind or hand or ears are not good media for conversation, then God speaks to us through circumstances.  Events happen to us, whether tragic or exhilarating.  Opportunities open up to us or are shut down.  Our life flow – career, job, family role, relationships – changes.  Changes we typically judge as being in a positive or negative direction.  These events are God’s way of effectively saying, “Go this way.”  “Do not go this way.”  “It is time to move in another direction, to yet another place.”  “You need to rethink what you have previously believed, and give thought to a new idea.”  This way of God speaking to us can often be very troubling or upsetting depending upon the circumstance we encounter.  The message will not likely be seen in the immediate moment; the event itself first serves to simply get our attention.  God’s actual message will only be heard by us in a calm, quiet period of reflection we must give to it thereafter.  We will rarely hear God’s words within that circumstance in the heat of the moment.

If none of these methods work, then we must hear God through our eyes.  God leads us to walk in the embrace of the solitude of nature’s forests and deserts.  We walk on a beach and lose ourselves in the protective blanket of the regular cadence of the waves.  We sit on the solid rocks of a mountaintop and take in the vast visual expanse of other mountains and valleys in front of us.  We look at the sky, clouds, stars and planets and see the unbounded miracle of a never-ending Creation.  We stand in the cities and see majestic architecture, or sit in museums and devour creative expression in art.  We lie in a farm field on a late summer evening with renewed appreciation for the rural simplicity of a way of life that nourishes our body.  In the doing of any of these things, we rediscover the full power and expansiveness of God’s Creation.  In that rediscovery, we find a sense of place and connection with every thing, once again become part of an indivisible whole.  We hear a different kind of voice, out of which in some inexplicable way comes clarity: an answer to our question, a new direction to follow, a new understanding of What Is.

God speaks softly to us.  In our own personal way.  Sometimes speaking silence, thereby encouraging us to find our own answers out of our growing spiritual maturity.   Likely giving us a message we do not really want to hear, challenging us to move from where we now are to a new and more fulfilling place.  Are we willing to hear God?

©  2015   Randy Bell