Voices, Voices, Voices
Biblia Luna #28-A
This is a bonus issue of Biblia Luna so that I can share some thoughts about the First Sunday in Lent. The next regular issue should come out as usual on Sunday.
Crazy Lectionary - First Sunday in Lent
The lectionary readings for the First Sunday in Lent, February 26, 2023, are Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; and Matthew 4:1-11. The common theme on this day is temptation. In the Genesis reading, the first humans give into the temptation to eat the fruit from the tree God forbade them to eat. In the Matthew reading, Jesus is able to withstand the temptations of the devil.
The way Matthew describes it, the devil tempted Jesus with words. The devil told him, “If you are the Son of God, then do this or that.” It seems as though Jesus knew immediately that the voice he heard was that of the devil. After the third temptation, he even says, “Away with you, Satan!” But would it have been obvious to someone else that this voice was from a place of evil? After all, wouldn’t it be in Jesus’ best interest to turn the stones into bread to feed himself? So couldn’t that voice have been the voice of God, encouraging him to eat something?
It’s really hard to tell sometimes where the voices in our head are coming from. Are they voices of reason, helping us discern the truth? Are they voices of hope and love, reminding us of God’s affection for us? Are they voices of selfishness and greed? Are they our “better angels,” or our selfish selves rationalizing themselves?
And that’s even more true for folks with mental illness. People with schizophrenia literally hear voices that tell them things that don’t match the reality most of us experience. Those voices might tell them that people are plotting against them, or that they have a special role to play, or that they should do something that they really shouldn’t. Perhaps these voices can be seen as temptations, and the voices can be so difficult to live with, because it’s so hard to tell the difference between “real” and “imaginary” voices. In my own life, living with depression, I experience a different kind of voice. I have a voice inside that speaks to me and tells me horrible, horrible things about myself. I call it the Dark Voice. Instead of masquerading as another person, the Dark Voice masquerades as me, or sometimes as the voice of God. It’s the Dark Voice that led me as a teenager to believe that God wanted me dead, because I wasn’t good enough. I truly believed God wanted me to end my own life.
I can remember walking a labyrinth a few years ago, in which I was confronted with a voice that I initially thought was God’s voice. When I walk labyrinths, I usually enter with a question, and trust that I will hear God’s voice during the walk giving me some sort of response to the question. On this walk, my question was, “How can I reach out to people better when I am depressed?” As I walked toward the center, I didn’t hear much of anything. I felt a sense of silence, like I was missing something. When I reached the center, though, I encountered a voice that said something like this: You’re trying too hard. You’re trying to do an end-run here. You can’t solve all your problems just walking labyrinths. Don’t ask me this question now. Ask me again when you’re depressed! “Oh, crap,” I thought. “Is this what I’m doing? Am I just trying to get easy answers here?” I started to question my whole trust in labyrinths. I was still standing in the center, and the voice interrupted. Now go! “Hold on,” I said. “That is not how God talks. This voice isn’t God.” I waited in the center longer, and I began to feel God’s touch, I think, a sense of being gently hugged from all directions. I don’t remember the words I heard then, but I remember the feeling I had: God wanted me to be abundantly filled, and alive.
It’s taken me well over forty years to just begin to be able to tell the difference between God’s voice and the Dark Voice. It’s hard. I’m learning to “test the spirits”: God’s voice wants abundance and life, the Dark Voice wants loneliness and misery.
Jesus was really good at telling who the voices are. I wonder if this gospel story can be an inspiration and a help for us to grow in that discernment too.
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