Sometimes, if you are paying attention, you know the truth of the phrase from Psalm 42: deep calls to deep. I had one of those experiences yesterday evening at Taize worship. As we sang “Jesus, Remember Me,” the words I sang came from deep within my soul. It was my prayer, my longing, my heart’s desire, not merely lyrics sung as a participant in a service. My chest ached and tears filled my eyes. I thought of the first one to utter these words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and I was grateful that he spoke those words and that, set to a simple tune, they worked their way so deeply into my spirit that I sang them as an expression of my own longing to be remembered by Jesus.
Recently I read Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits. It contains much wisdom, but one thing she wrote has probably had more impact on me than anything else in the book. She speaks of looking within, of accessing and trusting the Spirit within me, my inner wisdom. Thomas Merton said of the Spirt as our Inward Guide, “We don’t have to rush after it. It was there all the time and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.”
Moments such as I had at Taize remind me that even my longing for God is a gift given to me by God, by the Spirit dwelling within. This Spirit lives in all of us, but for us to begin to hear its wisdom without the filter of our own egos, we have to practice regular silence and stillness. I’m not talking once a month regular, but daily. Like muscles subjected to exercise, our ability to hear with the ear of our heart is strengthened by showing up to silence and stillness daily and with an investment in time.
Conscience is not the same as our Inward Guide. Conscience is a good and necessary starting point, but our consciences are influenced by our egos, our biases and life experience. The difference between conscience and inner wisdom is found in letting go of control. The way to learn to let go of control is through regular periods of silence and stillness, practiced without any expectation of receiving anything. And this is why few will choose this discipline. We are results oriented. If nothing is happening, we move on to something where we can see results. It keeps us in control and, in our spiritual lives, keeps us from accessing the wisdom of God.
The way of silence and stillness is narrow, and few will choose it. But, as Merton notes, for those who will take the slow, steady steps of silence and stillness, not rushing after it, giving it time, the inner wisdom of the Spirit will make itself known to us. It will catch us by surprise the first few times it happens, but eventually we come to trust it, knowing its Source is trustworthy.