It was a direction that came during my evening contemplative prayer. The time of prayer in my day that I had been dedicating to “working” on an unresolved anguish.
Listen, he said.
The directive did not come from the God, the Father, as is most usual for me. Instead, it came from his son, Jesus.
I felt, almost immediately, how different a command from Jesus was from one from his glorious father. I trusted it more, if that is the right word. Trusted it in terms of feeling that it would be “easier” to follow; not yet another offering of inscrutability that would take years, if not decades, to unravel. The command, listen, from God, the Father, could very well end up meaning, sing the Alleluia chorus from Handel’s Messiah. After roaming about in a maze, walking into walls, tripping over my feet, only to wind up at start at the very end of the process.
With Jesus, however, I felt as though what I heard was what I got. Not that I’ve had much experience with being led by Jesus through a vision.
In truth, I had never received a command from Jesus until this one.
Listen, he said.
Although I will admit, right off, that I did expect to hear something.
(I just love being human.)
And so the process began.
In my imagination, I sat in a dark, closed closet with Jesus and a few other props. I curled my knees up to my chest and held them tightly against me. I wanted to make sure that I not only heard what Jesus was going to say, but that I was going to do my best to focus on it so that I actually began to understand it.
No words came.
I had been told to listen, and here I was stretching my ears to the best of my ability, and catching nothing.
And then, the first thing to happen was a sensual experience. I felt these little bubble-like things, tiny, really, begin to hit me. They came up from the bottom of the closet and closed in on me. It was like sitting in an enormous glass of champagne, and being assaulted by its effervescence. Perhaps not assaulted, exactly. Crowded. Teased. Demanded.
I found the experience extremely annoying. I felt great irritation and impatience at this supposed exercise in listening. And yet, as it went on, I could see that in my irritation and impatience, my feelings about that which I believed I could never forgive were being broken out of the rock of my heart that they had been set in. Like jewels. The bubbles were knocking away the hardness that had kept these feelings safe all these years.
Somehow, in someway that I don’t understand, I recognized this process. Something in me acknowledged that this type of healing had taken place before in my life, fully unconsciously, perhaps, but I began to recognize the results. And I thought of other incidents in my life that at the time made me feel incapable of approaching the unforgiveness that had been presented to me.
It had formed a belief in me – those incidents that had happened, that had caused great pain, but could not be sorted out for any number of reasons – that I was just stuck with that incident for life. And yet, sitting in the bubbles, really, really wishing it would be over now, I felt around and found no trace of those incidents. And I “saw” that they had been bubbled away, pushed up and out of my heart, without any real effort on my part.
A grace from God.
The second night I approached this in my evening contemplative prayer (I had to wait a week to go back to this, to release the sense of discomfort from the bubbles experience), I again curled up, scrunching up my will power in order to listen to Jesus.
But there were no bubbles this night. Instead, the bits of feelings that had been freed by the bubbles came together to form a recognizable grief that was fear. And it formed a kind of press on my chest. I was lying down now in my mind. A board of terror flattened me to the floor. I could not move. I could not think. All I could do was feel. And there I was, like a book in the process of being bound, being flattened.
And all for the glory of learning that a first, most important step to forgiveness is to feel the fear that the sin against you had caused you.
The third night, again a week away from the last encounter with Jesus, my unforgiveness, and the command, listen, found me “prepared.” I was in the closet this time, but when I curled my knees to my chest, I wrapped my arms around them and buried my head down against my chest, hiding my face. I became my own little box. And the closet around me closed in so that I was tightly tucked into that box around me.
All I could experience in this tucking away of my whole being was my overwhelming need to protect myself. First there was irritation and impatience at having to sit still and experience what was happening to me; then there was the self-leveling feeling of fear; and now I was being forced to acknowledge how solid was the citadel that I had built around this harm against me. And how closed a space that citadel really was.
I also had the realization that listening means to acknowledge that someone else has something to say to you. And that sitting curled up in the binding of self-protection didn’t really allow for that.
I was, to say the least, confounded by this whole process.
But one morning, while reading from scripture, keeping this whole intention to listen with me through my days and nights, I was stunned by the line:
And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it. (Isaiah 30:21a)
And I thought, Ah, ha! It’s coming from behind me!
Whatever it was.
So there I was, all eager for my prayer to begin, to listen and hear something from behind me that will tell me the way for me to go. (I love things like that – being told where by go by God.)
And so I sat down. I lit my candle. I set my timer.
I was off.
Ready to try.
All I could focus on was the command, listen. And think about something coming up to me from behind. And I understood that listening really takes the emphasis away from all your other senses. And that you couldn’t put it away like the others. You couldn’t withdraw it, like touch from a fire. Or turn your head around so that you won’t see what is in front of you.
In front of you.
I saw how oriented I was to always scanning what was in front of me.
The idea that I was waiting for something from behind really unsettled me. Unnerving, it was.
It went against the whole construct of protecting myself.
I surrendered to this whole fun-house expression of what I thought was a simple concept, to listen. So I prayed every night. I had taken down the walls of my citadel, felt my fear, and cursed the process of having the whole past incident wakened.
It would come. From God.
Whatever it was.
And so, back in the closet with Jesus and the multi-colored notebooks.
Listen to the words of the notebooks.
I couldn’t imagine doing anything more horrible than that.
And, yet, there it was. The instruction.
If anything, I am obedient.
Most of the time.
So the words came.
Like bullets from a firing squad: sharp, violating, penetrating.
My tears became, in time, their own emotion. Wash, might be a good name for it.
And I heard, there in the closet with Jesus, that no matter what the sin is that someone commits against you, the words of it are always the same: I hate you.
And when something painful happens to you, there is no way to get away from listening to these words being hurled at you.
Night after night, the words of hatred.
Eventually they became an ocean that I was immersed in. Not really swimming. Not really drowning. Just existing. In the water, but having no real relation to it. A prisoner of the words, the fear, the fierce need to protect myself from them.
And they never stop.
I hate you.
Then, through no effort of my own, there was a raft that caught me and lifted me up to the surface of the ocean.
And what I could hear, what I could listen to was just the clean sounds of the wind. The incredible sweetness of the cessation of the ocean’s oppression.
In the absence of the words of hatred, there was God.
In his silence.
The sound of love.