In the last two postings I have written about the signals, warnings and wisdom that our bodies, thinking and emotions offer us about ourselves. Today I want to talk about the kind of signals that the Holy Spirit is sending us through encounters with people, suggestions of books to read or movies to see, someone’s insistence about something, the whispered suggestions to say something right now to this person that we wouldn’t ordinarily say out of politeness or fear, a thought to take another route home, or an inner prompting to call someone [it turns out he needed someone to talk to right then], and the events in our lives. Resonance is the key quality to look for when discerning the presence of the Spirit: resonance in us means that somehow we should pay attention.
God communicates with each of us, or at least is always present and sending messages all the time. Do you ignore a persistent yearning in you that is unfulfilled? Have you lost a job? Did you love it or hate it? Have you consulted with God to see what he has in store for you? Has some illness or death or other circumstance in your life stymied efforts to get ahead? Could some loss actually open new doors? God is speaking to us every minute of every day. Are you listening? I am not saying that God caused these events, but that he does use them to get our attention. What is he saying to you?
We can get a sense of God’s presence and help by looking back on yesterday, last week, the last few years or your whole life. Can you see God’s hand leading you here or there, avoiding this danger, or that job? What has God communicated to you over the years? With enough experience in paying attention we begin to really trust that inner resonance–a sense of excitement or interest–which is the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Have you ever picked up a book at home or in a store and thought of someone? Did you give it to her or him?
Over the years I have learned to pay attention to the birds that come in my life: the egrets, herons, cardinals, etc. At the very least birds always lift my spirits. I’ve also come to regard them as messengers of the Spirit, along with other animals. Here are just a few examples and, in parentheses, how I interpreted them: a great blue heron standing in perfect profile to me as I drove onto a freeway(pointing to the One, focus!), an egret standing by the side of the freeway as if waiting for me to drive by or flying right in front of my windshield(I see you!), the cardinals that live year-round near my house in Charlotte(everything I do is important), and two fledgling red-tailed hawks in my yard for three weeks(higher consciousness) and others.
As to the stories of animals who have appeared in my life, a doe and her fawn sat on the small slope outside my kitchen window for days on end and just stared at me(We belong here!); the humpback whale sang to us from 80’ below the surface and then breached near our tour boat three months before my husband died(a huge, steadying presence); and a female black panther sat beside me for seconds(in my imagination) three weeks before I went to Haiti for the first time(I am your protector).
I do try to see some meaning in these happenings, but, at the same time I hold them lightly—yes, I believe they are somehow messengers from the Spirit, but they are not the focus of Life of the Spirit—that focus must be on loving God. The purpose of paying attention to the signals within us and outside of us is to keep our focus on the Lord and where he wants to lead us. In the Ten Commandments God said “you shall have no other gods before me.” Those “gods” number in the thousands, anything that comes between us and God: rigid patterns of thought, emotions that drag us back to the past, preoccupations, worries, always putting others first, putting ourselves before all else, addictions, escapism, etc. These can all prevent us from experiencing God, so we need the signals from the Spirit to capture our attention and then to go beyond these normal reactions to life.
In the events of our lives how we look at what happens matters. If you lose a job, you could ask: what am I losing and gaining by this loss. Or in the cycles of the seasons, you could ask at the juncture of fall and winter: what is dying in me and needs to be let go of? What is dormant? In the early spring, ask what is new, being reborn in me now? If you add on space in your home, you could think about what the new spaciousness will bring to you inside. If you clear out closets and throw or give unused stuff away, you could be lightening your own interior space. Sometimes losses at first are significant, but they may also turn out to be a relief. Thinking about your life as a metaphor helps us accept what is happening more graciously, from a more nuanced perspective.
The signals the Spirit of God sends to you, and how he sends them, might be very different from mine. It’s important to begin to acknowledge what has resonance and meaning for you. If you begin to notice the resonance, first, you might find it impossible to change what you do; then, you might actually entertain the possibility; and finally, actually do what the Lord is calling you to. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul writes: “For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We were created by God, each of us an individual package of talents and challenges, to be and do what we’re created to do in the world. He needs us to fulfill our purpose, to help bring in the Kingdom. When the Spirit is trying to get our attention, he is trying to lead us back to that purpose which we were designed to fulfill and forward to a full expression of who we were created to be. My understanding is that there is a unique path designed by the Spirit for each of us to return to that purpose. The sooner we begin listening to the Spirit, the sooner we’ll make our contribution that is so needed in the world. I do draw a distinction between good works in the world and good works that are powered by the Holy Spirit. Many of us donate time and money to very good causes, but in the Live of the Spirit, we are to follow the leadings of the Lord. If we shifted to the Lord’s agenda for us, there actually might be no change in what we’re doing in the world, but there would be the One on our side powering and empowering us to do that work.