“I will hear what the Lord God has to say,” wrote the Psalmist. Hearing the voice of the Lord seems to be one of the main concerns and desires of those who seek Him in earnest. I think we would all love to hear what the Lord God has to say to us (unless we have a particularly guilty conscience, but even then…), yet if your experience is like most, trying to discover precisely what the Lord is saying can end up as a frustrating, confusing, or generally discouraging endeavor, simply because of the lack of clarity and certainty.
Well, don’t get your hopes up too high; I’m not going to provide some foolproof answer or secret for discerning the voice of the Lord. But I will share a couple points that may at least help you clear out some obstacles that may hinder your search.
John Tauler, OP (+1361) has something to say about hearing the voice of the Lord. He says we don’t hear it because we have made ourselves deaf. Listen: “It is very important to understand what makes men deaf. From the time that the first man opened his ears to the voice of the Enemy, he became deaf, and all of us after him, so that we cannot hear or understand the sweet voice of the Eternal Word. Yet we know that the Eternal Word is still so unutterably near to us inwardly, in the very principle of our being, that not our humanity itself, our own nature, our own thoughts, nor anything that can be named or said or understood, is so near or planted so deep within us as the Eternal Word. It is ever speaking in us; but we do not hear it because of the deep deafness that has come upon us… What is this deeply hurtful whispering of the Enemy? It is every disordered image or suggestion that starts up in your mind, whether belonging to your creaturely desires and wishes, or this world and every thing that belongs to it; whether it be wealth, reputation, even friends or relations, or your own nature, or whatever lays hold of your imagination. Through all these things he has his access to your soul…” (Second Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity).
This is worth sustained reflection. As soon as we open our ears to evil, we become deaf to God. This doesn’t mean only externally listening to something bad; it means “listening,” that is, paying attention, to all that enters our consciousness that is not of God, all that we allow to inhabit our thoughts and emotions and desires. All these things create an interior clamor, a sub-conscious cacophony that drowns out anything the Spirit of God might wish to say. For the Lord does not wish to compete with other voices; his is not merely one among many. He is the Word from all eternity, through whom all things were made. He does not need to out-shout the deceitful hawkers of happiness that so many flock to hear. He simply is, and his very being is Word and Truth. We must explicitly seek Him, casting out all the noisy inner idols and anything that disturbs the serenity of truth and love. Close yourself to the seductive and insistent voice of the enemy, and you will be ready to open yourself to the voice of the Word.
Marko Rupnik, SJ, offers another helpful point: “Discernment is prayer, the constant asceticism of renouncing my own will and thoughts… Such an attitude is possible only if one is enraptured in a wave of love, because to accomplish this a radical humility is necessary. Humility…best guarantees the process of discernment. However, as we well know, humility is like freedom: it is only found in love and is a constant dimension of love, and outside of love it does not exist, in the same way that love without humility is no longer love… The exercise of discernment leads us to this foundational experience of God’s love, which can them become a constant, prayerful attitude of discernment, of acquiring the humility that is above all docility, that is, the attitude of ‘letting speak’” (Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God).
So, in order to “let God speak,” and to be able to hear, we must not only clear out the evil or cluttersome thoughts and intrusions, we have to have a disposition of humble love. God is not going to speak to someone who is angrily shouting at Him, or who is telling Him how He should run the world, or who is whining about trifles. God speaks to those who say, “Speak, Lord, your servant listens,” or “Let it be done to me according to your word.” He speaks to those who, like Mary of Bethany, sit at his feet and listen to his word, who listen because they love, and because they know He has the words of eternal life. He speaks to those who come without self-interest, without curiosity to know the future or the answers to life’s inscrutable mysteries, but who come saying only, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”
Let this be enough for starters. I may have more to say in the future, but for now I still have to listen for what the Lord God may be saying about how to listen to what He is saying! Even the two points above can help us go a long way toward developing a listening heart. But are we willing to sacrifice our familiar inner idols in order to hear the living God? Are we willing to close our inner lives to every voice that is not of God? Every time we entertain the voice of the enemy, we become a little more deaf to God, yet we blame Him for not speaking more clearly.
If we are trying to tune in a radio station and are just a little off, there will be other stations interfering, or there will be static, and we will not hear our station clearly. Tune in to God, precisely—tune out interfering voices. Then begin to enjoy the music of Heaven!