A clergy friend of mine wrote something that has struck a chord in me. Fr. Mike Flynn wrote that the closer we get to Jesus, the quieter he speaks which necessitates that we constantly listen and have dicey faith so that we are persuaded by his small still voice.
It is reported in all four Gospels that Jesus went to quiet places to pray. Since no one has ever been closer to God than Jesus it behooves us to pay attention to his habits. What if, for example, Jesus went to desolate and quiet places simply to enjoy the intimacy of his relationship with the Creator. I imagine it this way – there are two ways I know what I am thinking. One is to talk to someone in order to bounce ideas off them. They often sound very different on the rebound. The other is to sit quietly by myself to think and listen and draw as close as I can to the Creator and Sustainer. Maybe Jesus was the same and would either bounce ideas off other people or go off to quiet places to think and talk to the Holy Undivided Trinity. The Gospels give examples of Jesus doing both of those.
Back to the main issue – the closer one is to Jesus, the quieter he speaks. This means those who are far off hear him well and those who are near do not. That is not how we, as humans, like things. I never imagine the prophet Isaiah having a hard time hearing God speak. Jeremiah, Noah, even Jonah, seemed to hear God loud and clear. Yet, based on Fr. Flynn’s principle, they too, like you and me, must be intentional when listening to God.
Moses had to go up to Mt. Sinai for 40 days to hear God’s voice. That is a long time to spend alone with anyone. But that is how close Moses was to God. The great prophet Elijah had to spend time in the wilderness by himself to hear God. He was in a cave and heard hurricane force winds but knew God was not in the wind. He went through a massive wildfire but knew that God wasn’t in the fire. He survived a giant earthquake but knew God was not in the shaking of the ground. Then, he heard a soft whisper in a gentle breeze. He left the protection of the cave and listened for the Lord. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
I imagine Mother Teresa in conversation with God. You would think she was so close to God that she could hear him easily. As it turns out, based on the Flynn principle and on what she herself reported, she had to strain to hear God the same as you and I. That also means the so-called holy people of our day have to really pay attention to what God is saying because his voice is so quiet to them.
This is a humbling principle. I think that God speaks loudly to folks we call new Christians. They’re on fire for the Lord. But the closer they draw, the softer Jesus speaks which might lead to discouragement. I know folks who have entered AA and clearly heard God. But, the more steps they took, and the longer they lived into their sobriety, the quieter Jesus spoke. I certainly experienced this in seminary. I heard Jesus quite well during my discernment. But then, during my three-year formation, the voice of Jesus got softer and softer. It’s nice to know if Jesus’ voice is still and quiet, it’s not that I’m not drifting from Jesus, rather he is inviting me to get closer to hear. During very difficult times in ministry, I feel close to Jesus as if I am sitting at a small coffee shop table with him. Yet, in those intimate times, Jesus beckons me to come closer and speaks in a whisper.
As we live into a holy Lenten season by letting go of things that hold us from a closer walk with God, we should at the same time practice listening for that soft whisper on a gentle breeze.