Speaking With Your Own Voice

If you would have told me, when I was a kid that one day, not only would I have a computer in my home, but I would have one in my pocket — I would have likely asked “why?” I would have been wondering what kind of future would require so much computation. Because how could I have ever possibly imagined the role that the internet would end up playing in everyday life? And it is both, a blessing and a curse, to be sure – it affords us many privileges, and demands of us much responsibility . . . at least that’s the way I think we should appreciate it.

Social media has reconnected me with various groups of people from many different eras of my life, in some cases rekindling old friendships. It also allows me to enjoy pictures of my children and grandchildren, in real-time – a wonderful treasure regularly popping up unexpectedly, making my day brighter. But social media most certainly has a far darker side. There are those who clearly lack discretion in what they post, expressing wince-worthy political or religious opinions – opinions so gracelessly conveyed, with such vitriolic fervor . . . that you can’t even imagine someone being so recklessly unfiltered – knowing their words will now exist in internet perpetuity.

I suppose for some people these days, this is what passes for speaking your mind. But if you’re able to hang in there long enough to observe these mud-slinging food fight extravaganzas, you pick up on the fact that most people aren’t so much speaking their own mind, as they’re just parroting the talking points of their tribe. And while listening to the cognitive dissonance of their remarks, it will likely occur to you that they haven’t actually been internalizing, in a thoughtful way, the opinions they’re spouting, as much as it is an outburst of emotional reaction.

But their remarks end up being haunted with the hollow disembodied echo of someone else’s anger, because they have lost their own voice in the torrent of their emotional meltdown. When our convictions aren’t any more substantive than bumper sticker platitudes and memes – they’re just a poor substitute for real convictions. Because true convictions arise out of a far more deliberative meditative process, where our beliefs emerge from the crucible of our struggle to reconcile the tension between what is, with what ought to be. And it is this very internalizing that produces true conviction.

So is it any wonder that scripture invites us, so many times, to meditate on the Lord, on his word, on his law? For it is his voice that we are learning to hear, until his voice enters into us like the bread and the cup, altering us from the inside out – until our own voice speaks with the simple clarity of God’s love and grace. And even though it is God unmistakably at work within us, we have learned to speak with our own voice – because every word has taken root within our soul, becoming a garden of God’s redemptive love making all things new.

. . . and as we hear ourselves speak —
even we’re surprised at finding God’s words in our mouth.

The Art of Speaking Your Mind (1 of 3)

They tell us that there is a significant disparity in the amount of words spoken by the average man and average woman, on a daily bases. But in the same way that all statistical curiosities are basically a Rorschach test, we are left to our own imaginations to interpret what the meaning of this disparity might be. For me, words indiscriminately measured by volume, seems a rather hollow index for reaching any kind of meaningful conclusion. It would seem, the content of what’s actually being said would be a far more relevant concern — regardless of how pithy or voluminous the conveyance.

I’m a person known for speaking my mind – a description often used both in disparagement and celebration of my personality. But over the years I’d like to think I’ve acquired a modicum of discretion and discernment – learning to choose the right moment and words, to best fit the situation . . . even though I still require a considerable amount of remedial discipline in this regard. But in truth, all of us are learning how to fine tune the social filter of our communications — because learning when to speak, and what to speak (or not speak), is an art form that takes a lifetime to master.

Having long been a songwriter, I’ve been asked about my songwriting process, by those interested in composing their own songs. I tell them that long before composition there needs to be cultivation – a cultivation of the heart and mind. Because the only thing we will ever reap from the uncultivated field of our vain imaginations, are the weeds and thistles of an undisciplined perspective. Therefore it’s a false assumption, to believe that inspiration could somehow occur in a vacuum, apart from a preexisting context of perspective.

imagesSo I ask — “What are you meditating on? What preoccupies your heart and mind?” Because whatever preoccupies us most, invariably becomes our meditation, cultivating our perspective . . . and whatever grows in that field becomes the content of our words and deeds. But you don’t have to be a songwriter to realize that our words don’t just pop into our heads – rather they grow out of the ground we’ve been cultivating all along. This is likely why Jesus in Luke 6:45 tells us – “. . . for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – reminding us that our words have been taking shape in us . . . long before they ever cross our lips.

Perhaps this is why we find so many on social media rehearsing out loud, their own fears, while exacting judgement and condemnation on others – they’re only reciting what they have written on their hearts. And maybe that’s why some folks remain silent, held speechless by a shame that binds them. But I say — let your voice be sure, not in the self-assured confidence of hubris, but rather in the humble acknowledgement that God is remaking you daily, conforming you to the image of Christ. To meditate on His word, to seek His Kingdom – making these, the very content of your words . . . and by all means – use as many words as you’d like.

. . . and sometimes our meditation requires no words at all.

Being Contemplative (2 of 8)

I’ve been asked a number of times “how is it that you find the time to write your blog?” I’m never quite sure how I’m supposed to reply, as the question strikes me in much the same way I imagine someone asking me “how is it that you find the time to be human?” Now, I’ve only been writing my blog for a relatively short while, but as an artist my mind is ever turning something on the lathe. So being contemplative is sewn into the fabric of my daily experience – I’m ever noodling the subtext of life.

Unavoidably, we live within the compression of time. We either see life as an object coming at us, demanding we be fully focused, or we’re in a self-induced vegetative mode, allowing distractions and amusements to transport us — but either way the clock is ticking. In our work-a-day world, we’re consumed with reading the stitches on a fastball, feeling the urgency to decide whether to swing or lay off – so in this context we experience time as impatient and intransigent. Then on the other end of the continuum, we’re chill, acquiescing to the undemanding seduction of light entertainment – in this context we experience time as fleeting and indifferent. Either way, time measures us, attempting to dictate how we experience being human.

But surely, measuring our lives by the stuff we do, is a reductionist view – and yet we allot time, as if the doing of life is all that matters . . . and that our internal life is merely incidental. But before you miss my point entirely – I have no desire to put one more thing on your plate, because I’m not asking you to do an internal life, as if time could measure it’s significance. What if I told you that being contemplative is actually not bound by time – that it can’t really be pursued that way? Would that be something you could wrap your head around?

downloadWhereas, there are activities that are more conducive to contemplation, being contemplative isn’t an activity, as such – it is more of a state of being. It is neither a form of didactic focused thinking, nor is it purely a freely associative state of relaxed focus – and even though it may borrow from both of these, it defies our usual cognitive processes . . . as it is part rumination, part meditation, and part prayer. It is what allows our internal life to go unscathed by the constraints of time. It isn’t measured like a task, having a beginning and an end – as it exists as the fluid subtext of our lives, so that our lives might become a place where we meet God . . . in an ongoing way.

What if the invitation of Isaiah 1:18 “come let us reason together . . .” and the admonition of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”, were to be understood as complimentary in nature – what do you think that would look like? Life itself, is a meditation. There are most certainly, activities that make up our everyday life, no doubt, important in their own way – but it is in the subtext of contemplation, where we more often than not, find communion with God. Funny how no one ever really asks me how I find time for that – but then again, if they think communion with God is nothing more than a switch we turn on and off . . . then they likely view it as being time constrained.

Life is a Meditation (1 of 5)

With our conscience and sub-conscience minds constantly working the impulse switchboard of our physiology, ever oscillating between the various dimensions of our psyche, it really is a wonder we can focus our minds on anything at all. To set our minds on something and then to see it through from conception to fruition requires a persistent and disciplined focus – everything else being pushed out to the periphery, so that the mind might work it’s mental lathe with precision, refining a simple idea into practical application. Such a focus is in fact a form of meditation.

Often when I ask someone what their philosophy may be, they’ll say – “O, I don’t have one of those” . . . but, sure they do – they just don’t know it. It may be a wild menagerie of misfit ideals mashed together in a cognitively dissonant patchwork of disorganized emotionally charged reactions – without an ounce of thoughtful erudition. It may even have more in common with a trailer park yard sale than an actual worldview . . . but they have a philosophy, nonetheless. Similarly, we all have a meditation, something our heart has commissioned our mind to cogitate on, something our thoughts return to every chance they get, something that animates our longing and stirs our soul.

meditation-zenThis side of modernity we tend to take a more academic posture, viewing meditation as either eastern mysticism, or just another form of didactic study – but I find the scriptures’ use of the word meditation in a far more practical and informal way. In the Psalter we are invited to make the word of God our meditation – I don’t necessarily see this as an admonition to study the Bible. Such study, is no doubt beneficial, but I believe that it is the meditation of God’s word which allows the study of God’s word to be truly penetrating. Mere study leaves us with nothing more than a flattened out sterile academic exercise, removed from the profoundly rich relational aspects of God’s heart embedded in his word.

To meditate on God’s word is to internalize it’s meaning, to ponder its implications, to rearrange the furniture of your heart so that it can make itself at home in your life. In this way God’s word is not entering into an unoccupied space – therefore it displaces a previous meditation, something else that had held captive our attention and passion . . . because in truth, we are never really without a meditation. So the only real difference is whether or not we want our default meditation born out of fear and selfish desire . . . or a deliberately meaningful one that elevates our appreciation for God’s hand at work in our world.

This is from one of my Lenten meditations from a few years back 


Nevertheless, not my will but yours . . .
When they come for me in the cowardice cover of night
Under the pretense of their self-assigned authority
Offering me the duplicitous kiss of recognition
Let me bind their wounds
Laying aside my knowledge of their true intent

Nevertheless, not my will but yours . . .
When the experts convene
Deconstructing me into expendable pieces
To secure their perception of wisdom
Let my lips offer grace lit truth
Along their dark path of understanding

Nevertheless, not my will but yours . . .
When reason leads guilty men to adjudicate the innocent
Consigning me to the expert hands of my executioner
Peeling away my dignity, extending each moment of torment until death
Let me choose forgiveness
When retribution is justifiable

But this is not my cup
I have only imagined that I’ve sipped it
For this cup has long been empty
Awaiting my response of . . .
Nevertheless, not my will but yours