In a recent post, I put a link to the video of a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s song The Sound of Silence by Disturbed. I said it haunted me the first time I saw it, and it has been haunting me again since I posted it. The words that are playing in my head are:
And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls; and echoed in the wells of silence.Simon and Garfunkel: The Sound of Silence
The writing on the wall occurs in The book of Daniel, one of the apocalyptic books in the Bible, where the prophet Daniel explains it to King Nebuchadnezzer:
Your days are numbered. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.Daniel 5: 26-27
It is connecting with another previous post where I had commented on some things Ignatius has to say about our attitude towards the Church. It strikes me that we are living in apocalyptic times: there is the climate crisis for one, and I studied atmospheric Chemistry for my PhD: it is not to be dismissed. And it also strikes me that the writing on the wall is a righteous act of defiance against those claiming to have authority. The words from The Sound of Silence imply grafitti, and sometimes, the grafitti written on the walls in defiance of the established authority may well be prophetic. Hazel Jones, the “Grafitti Granny” was recently caught on camera making such a protest, and her activities went viral. She wrote in chalk:
Brexit is based on lies. Reject it.Hazel Jones, chalk grafitti on walls in Wakefield.
Sometimes it may be the right thing to do to defy the established authority. I draw on the wisdom of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to illustrate my point:
In the Buffyverse, the watchers council created the slayers, and watched over and directed them. Buffy rejected their authority a few seasons back, and her watcher Giles, was sacked. In this episode, they are trying to use vital information they have about the current foe Buffy is facing, by withholding it, in order to bring the slayer back under their control. They have demanded the final showdown in the scene, imposing their own terms and conditions, and for the most part of the episode, Buffy has been downtrodden. You could say she has been experiencing turmoil of spirits, until finally we see her, claiming her identity and insisting on self determination within that. In essence, she has discerned her path, for me, for now, for good. She speaks with authority, and everyone in the room, watchers council included, recognise her authority.
And it raises the question:
We read in the gospels that the people recognised that Jesus spoke with authority:
They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.Luke 4:32
And considering the systemic problem in the Church I wrote about earlier, how do we discern its true authority from when something else is manifesting itself as that authority? How can we tell that it is the voice of God we are hearing and not that of the imposter? I get asked this question a lot when I am listening to people, I ask it of myself, and I ask it of the people I am listening to.
How do you know it is God?
One way is to compare it to a touchstone experience of God. These are moments when we know, without any doubt, that what we are sensing has come from God. If we hold the present experience in one hand, and notice how it feels and where it is leading: and on the other hand, hold the touchstone experience and do the same; we notice the sense of each. If the present experience feels similar to the touchstone one and is leading the soul to be inflamed with the love of God, we might trust that it is of God. If however, on comparing the two, the present experience feels jarring or odd, and is leading to a disturbance, we might discern that it is not of God, or has something not of God tangled up in it perhaps; the darnel sown in with the wheat. Ignatius gives a very useful analogy to help here: if the voice feels like water dropping onto a sea sponge, where it is absorbed gently and wholly, as if the water is part of its own substance, we might trust that to be God. If the voice feels like water dropping onto a stone, and it need not necessarily be noisy like a whole bucket full of water, it could be a quiet, almost difficult to hear, splash of one drop, then that voice is likely to be the evil spirit. Sometimes I notice that both are going on at the same time. There is the noisy, obvious, bucketful of water on a very large boulder, to which I might respond:
I know who you are and I know what you are doing!
And then I try to look for the misdirection, the one drop on a small stone that has been drowned out, the quiet, desolating whisper, telling me that I’m not good enough, and asking me who do I think I am? Who am I to be doing this? It is the voice that whispers to me that I am unworthy, and it sows fear, anxiety, despair, and seeks to undermine my confidence in what I am doing with my heart fixed on the greater glory of God.
There are many loud voices in our society, claiming to have authority; that others are spreading fake news, and sometimes it can be difficult to know which way is up. We can use our reason to check our facts, to ask ourselves about the credibility of the person speaking: are they an expert in what they are talking about? how are they informed? where are they coming from? what is their bias? their hidden agenda? their history and integrity? And we can look at the effects of their words and actions: we know them by their fruits. Do they bring people together in love, peace and solidarity, or do they sow division and hatred in the world? I am thinking here of the marches from both sides in the Brexit debacle, and the extinction rebellion protests, as well as the variety of responses to these different events on social media, as just a few examples from the public sphere.
I also watched the film “Official Secrets” recently, and it resonated with me in a similar way as Red Joan did earlier in the year.
Two women in breach of the Official Secrets act, breaking the law and acting from conscience and with extraordinary courage. I do not advocate breaking the law per say, but when we discern that the established world authorities are perpetuating evil, and the legal routes to challenge it are thwarted or exhausted, the prophets speak out, and the courageous stand up, no matter what the cost to themselves. I am humbled by people like Katherine Gun, because while I know what I would like to do, you never really know until you are in that position. I only hope that I would be able to hear God’s voice through the noise and that He would give me the grace I needed to act as He desires.
Towards the end of the 2016 film Ignacio de Loyola, there is the scene showing the “vision” Ignatius received at the Cardoner River, once he has left the cave at Manresa. Jesus, in the form of a boy, talks to him about the creature he defeated in the cave. He says to Ignatius:
Now you know my voice.
We can learn to recognise the voice of God more clearly, within ourselves and in the world, by praying with scripture, by praying the examen, with the rules for discernment that Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises, and by talking with a spiritual director who can help us to apply them. It helps us to be more able to respond to the true authority of God in our lives, even when it means defying the pseudo authorities of the world who would demand our obedience. Just a final thought on the authentic voice of authority:
I would like to dedicate this post to an amazing friend of mine who is currently standing up to, and speaking out to a corrupt authority within her own situation. I salute you, and I am praying for you. You know who you are.