I have been practicing listening prayer for almost 30 years. Twenty of those years were at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury, CT where we lived, raised a family and served the Kingdom of God. Yesterday, I was once again at the CFR co-leading a Klesis Listening in Christ Immersion Retreat with Tricia.
In the morning I took time to listen and journal; the two spiritual disciplines go hand in hand as far as I'm concerned. I've made it practice to do so every time we've led a retreat since moving to Northampton in 2008.
Yesterday while journaling what I was hearing God say to me, I noticed something striking about a difference between practicing this most intimate spiritual discipline here and when I'm so doing in Northampton. Let me give you a little feel for what listening prayer is often like for me in Northampton with a few notable exceptions. Most of the time, I feel as though the "spiritual air" is jammed with static; not much is getting through without patience and persevering. It's often just a struggle to focus enough to detect the "still, small voice of the Spirit. Having fairly challenging ADD doesn't help, but I brought that deficit with me from Simsbury. I didn't "contract" it in Noho.
Occasionally, what God says to me flows rather smoothly sans the struggle, or I'll have a short season when the dissonance seems at bay. More often, I begin a time of listening not knowing if I'll be able to hear from God because it's just a struggle here. I know God will speak as He will speak, and when He chooses to do so; I don't assume He's at my beck and call. But a consistent difference between what I experience here and in Simsbury at the CFR exists.
Specifically, the last few years while leading retreats there I begin with a question for God and it feels as if the pipeline just opens. I don't have to labor-- His words seem to flow freely and the gaps are few. God speaks to me there not as a flood, but as a steady stream, recognizable s from Him and without me having to labor.
As I thought about it I wondered if perhaps my apparent "ease" of listening has to do with the CFR's decade's-long focus on prayer, contemplating who God is; seeking Christ and His ways, listening to Him in the Scriptures and the Spirit, and last, but not least, consistently desiring and teaching intimacy with Jesus. I know this of folks still there who carry forth this work with passion and dedication. I've been privileged to serve with some of them as friends and gifted partners in this work. Such a desire to know Him intimately as much as we can, and serve His Kingdom ways appears to influence the producing of spiritual fruit and life.
I realized yesterday as well when praying has settled over a particular location for many seasons, peace and passion for praying abides. It's as if prayer "saturates" the spiritual atmosphere much in the same way that for rain to fall in a particular place, it has to saturate the air with moisture. Then, there is the notion in communities around the world that God seems to set apart certain places as wellsprings of prayer and Presence. While I know His ultimate abode is not settled here and will not be until the new heaven and the new earth are joined once and for all (Revelation 21 & 22) after Christ puts all dominion under His sovereign rule, there is consistent evidence of what the Celtic Christians termed "thin places" where it seems His Presence lingers and fructive spiritual life springs forth for a period, maybe even decades. Whatever the true dynamic proves to be, I find a consistently settling of mind and spirit when I'm at the CFR Retreat House and sojourning alive and well without dissonance, drag, and struggle for a bit.