Spiritual Practice…For Times Like These
March 24, 2012, 11:24 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“A spiritual practice for times like these,” reads the introductory sub-title in a book I’ve been steeping in, again. It’s entitled The Seven Whispers: Listening to the Voice of Spirit, written by Christina Baldwin back in 2002. Just that much suggests “times like these” means “post-9-11,” at least. Listening to the voice of Spirit seems a good description of a spiritual practice, in one sense. Practices come in all shapes and sizes, fit for persons of similarly varying temperaments and proclivities. Many engaged activities intend a deeper awareness, an awakening to voices within us deeper than the incessant ego-drives we live with every day. Drives that have us constantly comparing ourselves with others, assessing the love or intentions of others, judging behaviors as fit or unfit, etc. So a spiritual practice that frees us from ego-voices through listening to the voice of Spirit—defined for now as Person of the Triune God, a life-giving Force for good within and beyond us and nature—seems attractive, even compelling. But “seven whispers”? How are they a practice? Speaking them daily? Leaning on them in times dry and ecstatic? Thinking of them while engaging other activities like meditation, prayer, service, and the like?

I don’t know the answer to such questions for others, but for myself, I do know that the seven whispers of Christina Baldwin offer one of the most fruitful and rigorous ways to pray I’ve ever received. Speaking as a life-long Presbyterian, though now a wisdom-walker with more adjectives than I care to name, the seven whispers enter into then depart my life with a regularity that suggests tenable wisdom, durable practice, consistency of purpose. So I offer them (and her work) for a bit of invitation during this next season of life, whether one understands it as Lent or preparation for Easter or Passover or simply “what’s next.”

The whispers go like this:

  • Maintain peace of mind.
  • Move at the pace of guidance.
  • Practice certainty of purpose.
  • Surrender to surprise.
  • Ask for what you need and offer what you can.
  • Love the folks in front of you.
  • Return to the world.

 Seven imperative verbs—action-oriented invitations. Short sentences for memory’s sake. Each of them a practice unto itself, to be sure, but taken together, a holistic, ecumenical or inter-traditional path of listening.

Baldwin offers the narrative in which the whispers arrived, were given to her, in the book by this name. Each chapter offers prose, stories, questions to deepen one’s understanding of the whisper in question. Her writing style is familiar, but encouraging; revealing but bounded. Just what a good spiritual teacher offers, in other words.

For myself, I sometimes ruminate or mediate on only the verbs. Maintain. Move. Practice. Surrender. Ask & Offer. Love. Return. These speak a rootedness or groundedness in what has been given before, where one has been planted before. Maintain. But anything not moving or changing is dying or dead, so movement is necessary, unavoidable. Practice. Nothing grows or strengthens without consistent intention, activity, mistakes and missteps, then recovery and balance. Practice. Then the age-old resistant one: surrender. Not as imposed obedience. Not as power-over. But welcomed-within. Liberation from being in charge or having to know it all. Freedom to be who one is, without qualification or clarification. Surrender. The final three, thankfully, complete what is essentially a relational process from the very beginning with overt relational imperatives: ask, offer; love; return. Few of us learn easily to ask for what we need. More of us offer ourselves, but few offer only what we can, healthily and from abundance. More likely it’s offering what they need, regardless of whether one actually can do so from abundance, and asking for what one (in a starved imagination) think one might deserve, which is always less than Grace desires. Then love. Not out of need, but out of delight. And return, knowing that when one’s own needs are stewarded, it’s so giddy to return to the world, one can hardly stand it.

So, a spiritual practice for times like these. Begin the day with the whispers, even if you can’t remember them all. At the midday, repeat the imperative verbs, and listen for what Spirit might invite you to hear. And ask what Baldwin asked of God, to discern her own contribution for the world:

 What is it that you want me to do? How do I need to change in order to do it?

 Amen, Amen, Amen…and a little woman.