Contact with God is the name of a book on prayer by Anthony De Mello, S.J. It was published posthumously, first appearing in 1991. My copy comes from a 1997 printing. Books are often good companions on the spiritual journey. This book is an excellent companion. I picked it up again this June because of De Mello’s wisdom about waiting.
We are in the midst of a vision process at St. Paul. We chose a model based on what one philosopher calls “deep democracy,” (Arnold Mindell), in an attempt to hear from as many people in the congregation as possible. What has been interesting to me is the awareness this has raised among our members of their significant differences. It’s been exhilarating to discover who we are together, breaking open, and perhaps even dismantling, some of our assumptions about each other.
The process has also helped us to deepen our relationships to each other. Our conversations have not been superficial, and even people who chose not to participate directly have weighed in through email, or phone calls, or one-on-ones, thereby offering useful feedback.
Our vision process is based on the practice of listening. That seems simple on the face of it. Listening is a theme that our Bishop, Margaret Payne, has emphasized over and over again. We also based our process on the considerable leadership and expertise of an organizational coach Kathy Eckles, who adapted our Synod’s model of “Doing What Matters” for our congregation.
Listening deeply to others requires an attitude of patience and faith. Bishop Payne has encouraged us every year for the last 11 years of her two terms to wait and listen to each other as we discern God’s will in our congregations, our lives, our Synod, our world. We’ve been doing that at St. Paul and it’s been worth the time and patience required to do so.
Listening and doing are linked linguistically in Hebrew and in Greek. In biblical faith, as our people have experienced it, listening deeply is the first step in action. Anthony De Mello speaks of this kind of expectant waiting in his spiritual direction. Here’s a short example. Perhaps it will inspire whoever is reading this to a deeper listening:
Jesus said, ‘wait.’ We can’t produce the Spirit. We can only wait for him to come. And this is something our poor human nature finds very hard to do in our modern world. We cannot wait. We cannot sit still. We are too restless, too impatient. We have to be up and about. We’d rather undertake many hours of hard labor than endure the pain of waiting in stillness for something that is beyond our control; something whose time of arrival we do not know. But wait we must; so we wait and wait–but nothing happens ( or rather, nothing we can perceive with our unrefined spiritual sight), so we tire of waiting and praying. We are more at home “working for God” and so we drown ourselves in activity again. Yet the Spirit is given only to those who wait; those who expose their hearts day after day to God and his Word in prayer, those who invest hours and hours in what seems a sheer waste of time to our production-oriented minds. (p.4)
Contact with God, to borrow De Mello’s phrasing, is worth waiting for.