The small chapel in the center of Multnomah Bible College was freezing most mornings. I would grab a hot coffee from the cafe and the linen cloth used to cover the organ to cocoon myself in warmth before sitting on the cold wooden pews.
Back in those days, my morning mind was filled with negative thoughts and memories of a past relationship that was shrouded in manipulation and shame. From the moment I woke up, I entered the battlefield, using every ounce of strength I had to push back the darkness that painted everything a shade greyer. The darkness followed me everywhere. But, each time I stepped over the threshold to enter the sanctuary of that tiny chapel, the volume was turned down on the darkness’ nagging power.
So I went every morning. It was a welcome respite for my soul. I prayed, cried, read, journaled and sat quietly, watching the light change through a myriad of colors through the stained glass windows. But mostly, I listened. There was comfort in the quiet. I, of course, would ask God the many questions of why? and how?, only half believing I would receive an answer.
Then one day He spoke to me.
I remember I was sitting on the left side near the front. The sun was warm that day and the chapel bright. I loved those days because my feet weren’t cold and victory over the darkness felt closer as if it was sitting right next to me like a good friend.
However, on this particular day, no amount of light could push back the immense feeling of shame that had managed to follow me into the chapel. I was bowing my head and for a brief moment I looked up at the small white cross in the center of the massive stained glass window in the front of the chapel and I heard Him,
“That shame is mine. I paid for it. It belongs to me.”
In that very moment, I felt a relief in my body as if I had just taken off a heavy wool sweater. The Light penetrated my soul more deeply than any prior morning. I didn’t walk away that day completely healed but something transformed within me and I began to crave the silence hoping to hear God’s voice once again.
Before that moment, I knew very little about Spiritual Disciplines.
I simply stumbled, heartbroken and totally lost into the discipline of Silence and Solitude. I did not grow up in a tradition that taught us how to listen to God. But I was curious, and so I began to read books about spiritual disciplines and hearing “the voice” of God. I practiced my first Lent that year by trying to give up the snooze button to spend more time in the chapel for silent reflection and listening. Though my roommate surely appreciated my Lenten practice, by the second day, I wished I had given up sugar or something else.
Listening is probably one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines to develop.
It takes time, which many of us feel we do not have and a significant commitment to sit quietly without activity. Our minds go wild when we give them that kind of freedom. To-do lists run rampant, memories appear, projects loom over us like an impatient child waiting for you to make them a sandwich. If given the choice, many of us would choose to do a Bible Study during our time with God rather than sit quietly for an hour and do nothing!
The “Quiet Time” evangelical movement from the 1980s taught me a formulaic way of spending time with God. So when I showed up to Bible College, I didn’t know any other way to be with God than to read my Bible, journal personal application, and give thanks. But, being in that much pain, the formula got lost in my emotional turbulence. Some days all I could do was sit quietly as if waiting for an answer to a question I never asked.
Then somehow this listening posture began to follow me out of the chapel and into my everyday life.
I could hear God’s voice of love and reassurance without the sanctuary of those wooden pews.
To clarify, I don’t hear God audibly. (If you have, that’s amazing and I might be a bit jealous.)
I hear Him with my life. The fullness of who I am in light of who He is and who He has created me to be. I hear him through His Word, the church, believers and unbelievers, my gifts, weaknesses, and my story. When you begin to develop a spiritual practice in listening, you’ll find out soon enough that God’s voice is not bound to fleshly cavities and sound waves, and especially not by our own Christian presuppositions.
Developing a listening life is not about getting answers to our questions or finding direction for the future. It’s about connection. We don’t get the grand picture when we listen, we get Him. What I discovered all those years ago in that tiny chapel, is that He spoke through the simple things like warm coffee, a velvety blanket, and silence. What I felt when walking into that space wasn’t relief from my pain but communion with the One who bore my sorrows, and carries my grief.
To develop a spiritual practice of listening that reaches far beyond sitting quietly and trying to avoid our thoughts, we must first understand that listening is a skill that we learn and grow more capable in with time.
This was a messy process for me at first.
But I realized later on that I was practicing a version of Centering Prayer. I would find a passage I loved, then a word would stand out to me and I would simply “carry” that word around with me through the day as if it was a lifeline connecting me to God himself. Centering Prayer is probably the simplest Spiritual Disciples to learn if you are new to these practices. Centering Prayer is what ultimately prepares us for the other disciples like Lectio Divina, Solitude, Study and so on.
Remember that these Spiritual Practices are about deepening our relationship with God, not to attain some higher form of spirituality. Below you will find a short explanation of Centering Prayer. I pray that you can begin to incorporate this practice into your times with God and cultivate a deeper connection with Him.
- Find a quiet location where you won’t be disturbed and determine the amount of time you will spend in prayer.
- For beginners, I recommend 5 minutes and add time from there. The goal is to get up to a minimum of 20 minutes
- Turn phone to airplane mode and have a timer ready
- Find a sacred word that you can use to set your intention for your time in communing with God and consenting to His work in you.
- This word can come from a brief time of prayer or time in Scripture
- Keep the word simple: one or two syllables (examples: love, joy, peace, light)
- Take a deep breath and gently introduce your word
- Sit quietly, focus both on your word and on the connection with God
- When thoughts arise, graciously and gently bring your thoughts back to your word
- Thoughts can include body sensations, noises, feelings and reflections
- End your time with thanking God for His presence
Colette Eaton lives in the city of Portland with her husband Joshua, their two cats and German Shepherd puppy. Passionate about teaching God’s Word and supporting the local church, Colette is currently on staff at Bread & Wine Communities, a small expression of the church in SE Portland. She is currently getting her Masters degree in Christian Leadership at Multnomah Seminary and plans to continue to follow God’s calling of writing and teaching as well as supporting the local church.