In my vocation of prayer as a Christian mystic listening is fundamental, as is the deep silence that feeds it, moving in waves of molten magic underneath this seemingly ordinary world. But one of the first things we learn on our spiritual journey, particularly if we are called to any kind of contemplation, is that nothing is ordinary. We might experience the same things day in and day out, but within them there is still glory to be seen and wondered at. If we really had the eyes to see and ears to hear that are offered us in God’s kingdom, we could sit, entranced by our linen baskets and our gateposts, lost in awe at their symmetry, the holding together of their molecules, and any number of other factors. One leaf could hold our attention for a decade, if we could really see it.
But we are not built with that kind of patience and sight, or we have forgotten it, and it comes oh so slowly, and holy listening is the same. It also is something that travels up into our beings through our hearts and souls before it reaches our heads. This is one of the reasons that it is tough to put spiritual things into words. As a former language student I find it can feel a lot like trying to translate something from one language to another. When I want to convey what I have heard in my prayer times, the words can often come grudgingly, struggling to climb out of heart and into worded metaphor (or indeed simile!) like a mayfly wriggling out of its old skin.
At other times, the words come so fast that I can hardly keep up with them, again not exactly bypassing my head, but using far less of it than my own convoluted thinking does. Other things need to take their time, nestling into my heart or in my subconscious till they are ready to sprout into words, poetry or art. For me, creativity is the next stage on after listening and seeing, which are both ways of receiving from the Lord. Most listening prayer is of course silent, and spent in stillness, where we join with love. Then when there are things to be received, not everything is meant for sharing, as much is for our own personal edification or direction. But when there is something that could be helpful to others, I feel the urge to craft it into something shareable.
More often than not for me that means words, and it means hearing with my heart and then coating the bones of meaning with the flesh and sinews of the semantics that will enable it to be heard by others. It is perhaps somewhere in that process a lot like that larva that lay deep in the muddy layers for three years, similar to the things written in my prayer journals and languishing on my hard drive, which then finds itself grown to readiness, climbing up a stalk and working its way into a new winged life, where others can see it soar as an iridescent mayfly, even if only for a day.