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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Listen and Ponder

A reflection by Sharon Nelsen



The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is “Listen!” After more years than I care to reveal, I still wonder if I am hearing God, and so much so that this anonymous saying I picked up somewhere and saved because it spoke to me, I still hear sometimes as an admonition/encouragement:

"Do not undermine your worth by comparing yourself to others.
It is because we are different that each of us is special."
It's only too common to go back and compare oneself with others though in princple we believe that each one of us hears God uniquely.
“The essence of Christian faith is a living relationship with God, a relationship inaugurated by Jesus and presently available through His Spirit.” (John Shea, An Experience of Spirit -Spirituality and Storytelling p 6)
I think that all of us truly crave a living relationship with God and a deep desire to hear and to ingest the word God speaks to us; hearing it with my ears—the ears of my heart; respecting the way my mind understands the word at the time; acknowledging the way I feel upon hearing that word, and then holding it, pondering it, and allowing it to stir my hidden unifying center, my soul.
“If we could divest the term soul of the dualistic overtones and false competition with body, its more powerful meaning might emerge. Soul is the ultimate source of all human activity. It is the hidden, unifying center of the person...When God stirs the soul and the soul responds, the soul speaks the experience.” (Ibid., p 49)
  • I understand “God stirs” as God speaking
  • The soul responding means to me that my deepest self is hearing what God is speaking
  • The soul speaking the experience is the action I take in agreement with what I have heard.

In the beginning of Chapter Three of Exodus, Moses first sees a burning bush. When he turns aside to take a closer look, asking himself “why does the bush not burn up?” he is evidently ready to listen for he hears his name “Moses! Moses!” and answers, “Here I am.” In First Samuel beginning of Chapter Three, a voice is heard but not recognized because At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.” But Eli, a seasoned listener, understands and teaches Samuel how to respond to the voice he hears, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Listening is an ear open to truth, truth that can be spoken to me in varied ways. Whether in scripture, through other writings, through the spoken words of others to me or to another, or in the silence of my hidden, unifying center, I hear God's word in my own unique way.

High above my thoughts are the Lord's thoughts, yet, through Jesus, God has stooped to share His Thoughts with us. Can we not do the same with each other? Recently, about a dozen of us gathered after mass in Father Flanagan's tomb area to pray with four women who were struggling with terminal cancers. We praised God in song, there were a few spontaneous prayers, and then one woman said, “I keep hearing the song, 'We Shall Overcome.'” After a pause, I said, “Let's sing it.” As we sang the song, we received the image of the good cells overcoming the cancer cells just as the efforts for total racial integration had overcome the evil of racial segregation in our country. It was a powerful, comforting and encouraging image for all of us and it came about because one person trusted what she heard, and another confirmed that indeed, she had heard the Lord.


The psalmist tells us that God's priority is that we listen to Him, desire to follow His Way and respond to Him.

Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.” (Psalm 40.7-8)
Somewhere along the way, along with body and soul being divided into separate categories, Catholics learned that God only speaks to certain “certified” persons: saints, clerics, and that person I know who is so much holier than I ever will be. We need to believe first that God wants a personal, living relationship with each one of us, as well as a collective one through Holy Mother Church, and secondly, we need to relearn how to listen to God. This kind of listening involves:
  • Recognizing and acknowledging our emotional responses to what we hear; 
  • Letting the core of what we hear settle into our heart--treasure it, take care of it, keep it alive! 
  • Trusting in the Lord, the Giver of the word who will not lead His Beloved astray. The word of God that says, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let it not fear.” (John 14.27) and see also John 20.21. 
One sign that we have heard God's word to us is that we receive that gift of Peace promised by Jesus. It is not the peace we get from being satisfied, nor is it a peace that means we have no more challenges, nor is it always a peace that immediately surfaces. But God's Peace eventually brings us power over our fears; it deepens our trust in God, trust in God's promises, trust in God's word to us, trust that God will not lead His beloved astray; it reassures us that all works to the good, even the suffering, unpleasant things, faults, weaknesses and tragedies; it helps us remember that God is with me making all things new, desiring only our good and sending us the assistance we need to do the work He is calling us to do.

Mary listened. She heard God's word spoken to her through the Angel Gabriel. She went through the steps of thinking, acting, and feeling and then she pondered—what stirred her soul she pondered until it radiated out so that she was able to live out the word in God's peace.


Listening bears its fruits in pondering. Pondering the word we hear is letting that truth saturate our soul. Like Mary we can develop the habit of pondering:

  • Think – use our mind ultimately, and before acting. When we have thought about something, clarified it, we are free to respond--even spontaneously! Our thought is not to lead us to this perfect pre-made thing to say, but to the true, God-appropriate thing to say at the time. No script needed!
  • Act – to act means to do something. In learning how to ponder, to act is to develop habits of recognizing our true emotional responses, treasuring what we have heard, and trusting that God will not lead us astray. These kind of habits can grow, crowding out futile habits. 
  • Feel – often, feeling can come first, or seemingly not at all. When I have an emotional response, I recognize and name the feeling-- name my true response and accept it. When I am in a situation and I sense something is affecting me but I can't name it, go deeper. Look for it. It is there--I have just learned to put a lid on it. There is a feeling response to everything—seek and you will find. 
  • Ponder – Once we have accepted and recognized our thoughts, acts and feelings, we are ready to ponder, to let the truths gleaned from thinking, acting and feeling seep into our soul. (Brooding that can lead to grudge-bearing, happens when we ponder without recognizing our thoughts, acts, and feelings.) 
In holy pondering we go over the thoughts, relive the feelings, examine experiences and possibilities, accept all of our thoughts and experiences, hand them all to God as the fragment of truth we have to offer and then ask to receive the whole truth—God's thoughts, God's ways.”But when the Spirit of truth has arrived, he will teach the whole truth to you.” (John 16.13)

Is it any different that God came to earth as a human (creature) and that God comes to us again and again in words that stir our souls? Listen, accept the word that we hear, then ponder it and live in the Peace that Jesus gives us.

God says, “I will help you as you ask, each time, each event, each need, to use your talents and time to the fullest. I will help you to remember to seek my wisdom; to desire to choose what is life-giving; to keep the eternal perspective as you live in the confined quarters of time and space; to believe that I can do and will do the impossible; to rejoice always because my Word, my promises are true and endure forever; to adopt and nurture my thoughts and my ways; to delight in expressing what you hear; to move forward through your fears and blockages, especially those associated with sharing your soul, and, to praise Me in all things.”

And how will God help us? By communicating with us, speaking to us in myriad ways. Our part is to listen, think, act, feel, ponder, share, give thanks, and always praise the One who made us so wonderfully in His image and wants to constantly stir our soul--to be in living relationship with us.

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