March 22, 2018
You have heard, perhaps, the apocryphal story about the person who took a Native American friend to “the big city” – think New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. They were having quite an adventure, walking all around via the maze of sidewalks, dodging the cars and buses as they crossed the streets. At one point, as they were trying to carry on a conversation, the Native American stopped abruptly, and turned back in the direction from which they had just come. His host, caught off guard, had gone several steps without noticing that his friend was gone! When he looked, he found his guest kneeling alongside an opening in a subway grate, peering intently into the darkness below. Disturbed that he was about to lose his lunch, or had dropped something into the darkness, he rushed over and asked “Is something wrong? What are you looking for?” The Native American pointed to a nearly invisible ledge, just a few inches long below the grate and asked, “Do you hear that?” The reply, “Hear what? All I can hear is the noise all around us! The roar of the motorcycles, the blare of the car horns, the squealing of the taxi brakes… hear what?!?” The kneeling man reached down into the gap between the grate and its frame, and in a moment, brought up a little brown-black cricket, making its song ever so softly and deliberately. “Now can you hear it?”
My electronic calendar – which has finally replaced the paper and ink ones I kept for so long, has become so full of items recently – e.g., meetings, conversations, appointments, classes to teach, folks to see, thoughts to write, and all the rest, that at times, I can hardly hear the “cricket” chirping… though he’s quite persistent! Last week’s “busy-ness quotient” was nearly off the scale, and Holy Week’s is going to run a close second! This week, there seem to be fewer demands on my time, though they’ve been popping up onto it with each new hour/day! Ever feel like your time was not your own? All the noises of life – and there are a great many, demanding your undivided attention and allegiance – can be overwhelming…. such that you may not hear the soft voices, the quiet appeals, even the invitations of love and grace.
If there is one great fracture in my soul of late, it may be this – at times, I just don’t hear the “crickets” very well. The one who reached down into the subway grate heard them, but his friend, “not so much.” It’s not a moral judgement; rather it’s an observation that sometimes we are so busy in the “busy-ness” of life that we miss what may be most important of all. We hear pretty much what we’re listening for, don’t we? Between Palm Sunday and noontime on Easter, a great many things are going on in our life together, with worship times, Sunday School classes, scripture readings and anthems to prepare. The bulletin is extra heavy (“busy”) this week!
In the hustle and bustle of the days of Holy Week, I hope you will spend a little time each day – like I suggested last Sunday from the pulpit – listening for the voice of the Father…. not rehearsing your lists of requirements, wants, and needs, but instead placing your heart alongside His, feeling its beat in synch with your own, and listening for the “still, small voice” that’s whispering your name, like a cricket calling you from a ledge in a subway grate.
You might hear, if you’re listening, the sound of your family’s voice, asking that you spend a bit of unstructured time with them, just to “play” a bit, and laugh like you were being tickled! You might hear an invitation to step outside the box of your “usual and ordinary” Sunday morning routine, and help welcome newcomers to worship, or share the elements of the Lord’s Table, or keep up with the children as they hunt for Easter Eggs. You might hear our Father inviting you to continue to sit simply in the silence, apart from the radio/TV blare, the yelling from one source of another that THEY must have your undivided attention – and have it NOW!
You might find yourself rummaging ‘round in the Psalms, or the Gospel accounts of Holy Week, or even something from the Revelation, or the Acts of the Apostles, or the Creation stories. And you just find a moment to practice the breath prayer – while you’re inhaling, say repeatedly “Lord, Jesus Christ” and when it’s time to exhale, say aloud, “Have mercy upon me.” You might find one of those recordings of the Lord’s Prayer, and listen to it being offered in several settings/tunes, some by choirs, others by soloists, and still others on one or more instruments.
Mercifully, our God is multi-lingual, speaking many languages, in a wonderful array of accents and dialects and emphases. The key is that it’s like “listening for crickets!” You have to pay attention! For some, that’s the sound of boredom and ennui; it’s what happens when there’s nothing really interesting going on all around. But I wonder, like we have all told our children and friends, that boredom is the product of choices that we’ve made without intending to make them. How would things be different in our prayer lives if, instead of looking only for the noisiest, the most spectacular, the brightest burning candles, we chose to look for the quiet, the meager, the soft-spoken, and even those matters that take quite a bit of work to unearth?
My all-too-often, all-too-full calendar sometimes gets set up as a justification for the breadth and depth of what I am about vocationally. Sometimes (in rare moments), it’s a screen/shield behind which I take refuge when being sought for “one more” thing/activity. Sometimes, it feels like that boulder that Sisyphus in Greek mythology eternally pushed up the hill one day to find that overnight, it had rolled back down, and he was required to start again. And yet, there are those moments that catch me off guard, and I find that God’s grace has been at work in, through, around, and even in spite of me.
I don’t regret the full calendar for a moment; but maybe I do need to take charge of it a bit more carefully, setting aside time to “listen for the crickets,” who may sound like a breaking heart, someone without the necessities of life, a voice pleading “I’m all alone,” or even “Is God even interested in me?” Spend at least a little time each day between now and Easter evening, in listening for those whose hearts and lives God is laying alongside your own. It might be the most important voice you’ll ever hear, and the most important appointment you’ll ever make all your life long.
Grace and peace.
Jim Earley, Pastor, Tabernacle UMC
Responses? Send me an e-mail: RevsRUs@cox.net. OR Give me a call (571-239-3529). Or, meet me in worship on Sunday morning – 8:45 and 11:00 a.m. (2 settings)…. or on Easter at 7:00 a.m., just down the lane next to the church cemetery, for our SonRise Service on the waterfront! I look forward to hearing from you.