The Still Small Voice

Exploring Silence - from seed to fruit: the maturing process

 Chapter Four, Part Five

 

 

Draw our souls to stillness,
that we may sense where
You are beckoning, Lord,
and help us to recognize things
we would otherwise miss.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

From seed to fruit – the maturing process

‘Does he write? He fain would paint a picture. Does he paint? He fain would write a poem!’ (Browning)

I met a friend unexpectedly one day for lunch in a café. ‘Writers,’ he mused, pondering my literary efforts. ‘Aren’t they the people who spend most of their time making excuses for not getting on with the job?’ Unpalatable though it is to admit the truth, I have a sneaking feeling that he had it about right.

Browning knew what he was talking about, too, when he penned the quote above. Have you never said something like, ‘I’ll just wait until I’ve done this or that, and then I’ll start?’ Before we know it, we have waited too long, and missed some blessing.

It requires discipline to listen to the Still Small Voice, just as my work as a writer requires as much hard work as any other calling.

I usually write the first draft rapidly, as the result of the Still Small Voice inspiring a particular theme and starting point. Very soon, though, the process moves beyond the initial creative rush and I am plunged into a seemingly endless sequence of revisions, and even complete rewrites. What a temptation then to feel I must be the poorest of writers, to spend so long failing to achieve a finished product!

The truth is that there is no magic shortcut to achieving something that will be read with pleasure by others. When I leave off writing, therefore, I make a mental agreement to return to it again shortly. I treat this as a firm commitment, and respect it as a serious priority.

The more I train my spirit to do this, the more I find that I can write, pray, preach, I can write with some degree of fluency, no matter where I am geographically, or what I am going through emotionally.

I have learned to filter out background noise and so can write on trains or on public benches as well as in my writing room.

Cultivating the habit of consulting the Lord likewise requires us to move beyond the need to feel inspired. As someone put it, ‘Spirituality without discipline is like a river without banks.’ May the Lord grant us the single-mindedness of star-crossed lovers arranging a tryst – and the patience and determination of a wild life photographer!

I find the moments after waking are particularly important for receiving steering touches. Before I find myself overwhelmed by the thought of all I have to do today (and the memory all I failed to do yesterday!); before the media bring tidings of the world’s woes, and the bills arrive that challenge my bank balance, and with it my equilibrium, I want to be open to what the Lord may has to say.[7]

It is here that we face our first and most difficult obstacle. Most of us find strong psychological and spiritual barriers when we seek to listen in this way. Just as many professional musicians experience strong and seemingly inexplicable urges never to pick up their instrument again, it is quite normal for writers to feel that theirs is the most excruciating profession on earth.

Like a restless horse, we must allow our inner resistance to be broken in. How will we advance beyond pointless reverie so long as we remain in bed? Complex and competing calls on our time and resources are hard enough to deal with, but the plaintive whines of our hearts can be still harder. ‘It won’t really matter if I spend another half hour in bed.’

Actually, it may matter very much. Without discipline and determination, our intimacy with God will remain forever a chance affair; a ‘hit’ when times are good, but a distant ‘miss’ when competing attractions come our way.

Then there are the specific demands that different facets of our character make. The part of us which would enjoy a quiet evening at home watching a good film finds itself in direct conflict with the desire to spend time with the Lord. Another part of us is meanwhile chafing over a pile of unfinished chores, even while our social-calendar is bleeping a reminder that we are long overdue a visit to friends or family.

The Still Small Voice helps us to prioritize these contrasting (and often conflicting) impulses. At the risk of repeating myself, let me say again: beware looking for short cuts. Too many ideas and publications are presented before they are really ready to be exposed to a wider public.

It will help us to remember that any form of creative work requires us to operate in two entirely separate modes: first as the Creator and then as the Editor. The secret is to know which mode we are meant to be in at any given time.

In creative mode, I get up early, because that is when my spirit is at its most receptive. (You may function best at the ‘owl’ end of the day.) Sometimes I just start to write, without trying to think too much. During this initial outpouring, I am simply guided by the ideas and concerns that seem most pressing.

This stream of consciousness increases my output, and reminds me where my heart interests lie. At the very least, I am converting my reveries into the raw material from which I can later shape something of real value. In whatever form the material ends up, it will come across with fresh impact because it has sprung from a living stream.

This is the time to be instinctive rather than over analytical. The time will come soon enough when I well return to the work not as Creator but as the Editor, who must evaluate what has been written as impersonally as if it had been written by someone else.

At the same time, we should be careful who we share our outline thoughts with. It is not that we are looking for ‘yes’ men who will rubber stamp our ideas, but we may need to guard ourselves against negative comments that can stall the fragile threads of our creativity – especially if we are inclined to be overly sensitive to what people think and say.

Highly critical people often fail to catch genuine visions, their very competence making it hard for them to see beyond our clumsy outline sketches. All too readily they heap so much scorn and advice on us that we feel like abandoning the project altogether. Don’t let this happen!

Monitor, therefore, who you share with, and how much you share. ‘A good work talked about is a good work spoilt,’ Vincent de Paul rightly warns. Laying bare our heart, and waxing lyrical on the themes that are exciting us, can feel good – but in reality, all the work remains to be done.

By contrast, sharing appropriately with friends and mentors, can release insights and resource and help us return to our work with fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm.

For Reflection and Prayer

Many people find that one of the most helpful ways to discern the Still Small Voice is to write what Graham Cooke calls a crafted prayer [8] – one to which you devote real love and thought. This is therefore a particularly valuable exercise.

Focus on a person or a situation you are concerned about. Ask the Lord to give you some starter thoughts. As these crystallize, turn them into a prayer.

Once you have done this, you may well find that you can go one stage further by rewriting the prayer in the first person, as if it were coming directly from the Lord.

This may sound somewhat contrived, but many people have found the Lord taking their starting ideas and transforming them into something of real prophetic value. Set some time apart with friends or in a fellowship and try it!

References

6 A Levite is someone set apart to minister to the Lord and His people (cf Deuteronomy 18:6-7).
7 I have borrowed much of the material in this section from my book, Intimacy and Eternity, (New Wine Press) See: For Further Reading.
8 Graham Cooke Crafted Prayer (Chosen Books)

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