My small hiking companions were listening, but not hearing anything. The children were so familiar with city noises that at first they could not distinguish the small sounds of nature on that peaceful mountain trail. But as they became very still, they realized that the surroundings, while tranquil, were certainly not silent. First they noticed the tiny buzz of busy insects, then a raven cawing as he played in mountain air currents. They even heard wind pushing softly through thick needles of a blue spruce. At last they laughed, wondering how they could have missed the noisy red squirrel chattering from a lofty branch of a pine tree.
The children were learning lessons about nature. But I was discovering something valuable about prayer. As a new student of Christian Science, I had begun to grasp the fact that because man is God's expression, God was not far-off but as close as my thought, speaking to me through the spiritual ideas He imparts. But listening for those spiritual messages and actually hearing them are two different things. I was certain that His healing messages could be heard more consistently. The Bible declares that God "spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Ex. 33:11). And Christian Science affirms, "The Soul-inspired patriarchs heard the voice of Truth, and talked with God as consciously as man talks with man" (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, p. 308). How I longed for such close communion!
Shortly after our hike, another incident taught me more about hearing God's messages. One evening, while traveling down a country road, the car I was driving slipped into deep ruts and became stuck. All of its power could not move it forward or backward an inch. We were miles from help, it was growing darker by the minute, and I was concerned for the comfort of my two elderly passengers. I quickly prayed, and within minutes, headlights approached on that lonely road. I smiled, thinking that God always answers our prayers.
Yet, when the driver tried to help us by listing some time-consuming, expensive, and complicated methods of freeing the car, I began to wonder if I really had heard God's solution. Instinctively, I felt there must be a simpler answer. So while he discussed various alternatives with my friends, I quietly retreated to a place apart, and again prayed. This time, my prayer was quite different. Instead of a quick, rather thoughtless plea for help, my thought became very still. It no longer whirled with the inconvenience of the situation and all the possible solutions; instead I quietly acknowledged that God, divine Mind, was with me.
The atmosphere that had seemed so dark and perplexing began to be very peaceful. Then I remembered a Biblical character who had been rescued by God's grace in a much more serious situation. Abraham had believed he must sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. But according to the story in Genesis (chap. 22), he heard an angel message telling him to spare the boy. Then he lifted up his eyes and saw a ram with its horns caught in a thicket, and he sacrificed the ram instead of the child.
Suddenly, to me that ram symbolized animal qualities of headlong impatience, self-will, and stubbornness. Meekly, I remembered that I had been warned about deep ruts in that road, but had willfully chosen the route anyway. Ungodly traits needed to be sacrificed, and how willing I was to be rid of them! They could never be a part of God's likeness, for they are absent from God. At that moment, like Abraham, I looked up. There, partly hidden in the shadows under some tall weeds, was a thick, weathered board leaning against a fence post. It could not have been seen from any position but the one I had taken in prayer. It was long enough to wedge under one of the car's tires, and this time, when I tried to back out, the board lifted the chassis just enough to clear the center. Within moments, we were free and safely on our way.
Since then, I continue to discover the art of hearing God's messages. Learning to listen is the first step. The quietness achieved through prayer is not a mental blank but a focus on the certainty of God's allness and peaceful presence. It is a state of receptivity in which we give ourselves the opportunity to hear divine messages. Just as one would not speak to a friend, then offer him no chance to respond, prayer does not ask God's help and then fail to listen for His answer. Faith that establishes in consciousness man's inseparable spiritual unity with God, expects to hear His healing ideas.
Listening for spiritual messages and actually hearing them are two different things.
The next vital step is carefully to exclude from thought anything unlike God. Sometimes we become so accustomed to the din of pain, stress, and worry that our best efforts to listen prayerfully do not bring the healing results we yearn for. Like the children who had to adjust their listening skills from the familiar sounds of television, telephones, and traffic to those gentle sounds of nature, we must learn to turn our attention away from the clamor of the material senses to the spiritual sense of God and His Christ. The Christian Science textbook declares, "Spirit, God, is heard when the senses are silent" (Science and Health, p. 89). We must empty our thought of such things as discouragement, fear, and self-concern and replace them with spiritual qualities—love, patience, peace, and fearless faith.
Christ Jesus taught his followers to pray by going into one's "closet" and closing the door. Prayer that acknowledges divine Love's allness and firmly closes thought to any element foreign to Love finds the refuge of spiritual stillness in which uplifting, healing messages can be perceived. God, being Spirit, utters spiritual messages. Fear and selfishness are utterly alien to the spiritualmindedness that hears His messages. If someone were telling you something you needed to know, and you were not attuned to the same language, you would miss the message. So our thinking must conform to the simplicity of God's language—unselfish love, goodness, and spiritual peace. Such thought transcends the material senses and reaches a Christlike awareness that stills the storms of bewildered, fruitless, matter-based thinking.
Such stillness always takes precedence over the commotion of materialism. It pierces the darkest night with refreshing, healing ideas and confirms what the Master said: "Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear" (Matt. 13:16).
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