We are all tugged at the ankles by those who see us as a means to an end – a mending, a feeding, a nurturing, a caressing.
We are all surrounded by bad advice shouted at us by friends even as much as by hawkers and sellers and strangers.
We are all gripped by terrible melancholy at times, blinded and brittled by a cold wind that pries at our sacred core trying to get in and chill the warmth at our center.
We are all thrown into a late night, sometimes in the middle of the day, with wild and frightening branches and debris scattered on the road in front of us.
Each of Mary Oliver’s verses has a haunting in it. They have a Loon-like quality, a lonely voice on Nature’s pond reminding us that we can see ourselves in their reflection. And we are there in each branch and finger and white moon.
Oliver reminds us there is another voice that we can slowly begin to recognize as our own voice, and that it will be with us as we stride deeper and deeper into the world.
But here’s the thing, we shouldn’t confuse that voice with God.
We hear people talk about God speaking directly to them; about how God tells them this and that, and that God wants them to do this thing or that thing. When we hear someone speak that way, especially if it is matter-of-factly, be afraid; be very afraid.
There is nothing more dangerous than a human being so hell-bent on doing what he or she want to do that they ascribe not only the voice of God to it, but the very authority of God as well.
If you think God has spoken to you unmediated by any other voices or events, think again. God speaks through, within, across, and among those with whom we live and work and play.
The voice of God is always mediated.
The voice of God is always mediated through something or someone else – not direct, not with absolute certainty, not delivered on our own voice that we are ever so comfortable kibitzing with. God’s voice is always mediated with something or someone else, usually where we least expect it and from whom we least expect it; and often, when it is most inopportune. These are the characteristics of a holy visitation that we can trust.
God’s voice is always mediated with something or someone else –
normally those who are marginalized by us, or from within something we have already discounted, or from someone we have rejected. These are the characteristics of a godly whisper.
Now please, do not hear more than I am saying.
An encounter with the holy in the still small places within our own mind, where we can hear God whisper or even yell inside our own experience, is also available to us. Mystical encounters with the holy can happen any time and sometimes often. But any such private experience needs to be mediated through others to be trusted. That is the role of spiritual community.
What we are thinking, intuiting, imagining, hearing, and seeking in our inner life must be aired and massaged and worked through the sieve of conversation with others in order to discern the voice of God, distinguishing it from the sneaky voices of ego and shadow. This is the meaning and importance of spiritual community.
The crazed and delusional notion of radical individualism we have conjured up in The United States is hazardous to our health, and to everyone around us as well. This is especially true when it comes to private spiritual experience.
You and I may have some small modicum of individuality but we are anchored like coral on the reef of human community, and on our own we will shrivel and die both spiritually and physically.
What we imagine we hear in the privacy of our own inner life we need to share out loud with people we trust even though it makes us feel vulnerable. That reality is surely something to rant about but rant as we might, we will be unable to change it.