Voices in our Heads
“There’s a room full of voices in our heads and every single one of them claim our name” -Cloud Cult
“When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery; antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things. And about these, I tell you now as I have told you in the past, that people who behave in these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God. On the other hand the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control; no law can touch such things as these.” Galatians 5:19-23
Frankly, this is a much nicer park than I expected. Nice, long trails, a native plant garden and a lot of nature. Most city parks are pretty flat and more geared for kids. This is the kind of place that, if you come at the right time, you can stop, contemplate the beauty that leads one to true beauty, and hear the voice of God speak to you.
Or hear the voices of children screaming, that too. In speaking to many of you about where you most experience God, most of you said that out in nature is the best place to connect with God. I get that. So does Jonathan Edwards who said in the 17th century,
“I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father’s pasture, for contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together… After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory in almost every thing. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and the stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature.”
People in the 17th century wrote long prose.
When we are in silence before God, we experience the Spirit. Or A spirit, anyway. One kind or another. There are many spirits and there are a variety which we can listen to.
When the ancient writers spoke of a “spirit”, they meant a system of entities that have too much power for just one mode of being. So, for instance, the planet Mars was also a spirit Mars, which has a pull not only his own, but on his moons and on other beings. In the ancient world if we see a human being have superior strength or wisdom beyond normal human capacity, they would say that the person has a “spirit”, the ability beyond one entity. When a person falls in love, they would say that spirit possessed them, because they go through a change of personality.
Even so, we have multiple spirits that speak to us. I am not qualified to say whether these voices are a result of our own brains, a mix between different parts of our brains, stuff we hear and our bodies or external spiritual forces. But the ancients called them spirits. We can say that they aren’t spiritual beings per se, or we can say that they are.
Paul wisely said that we need to discern the spirits. He recognized that we have multiple systems in our heads, tugging us this way or that, A room full of voices all arguing with each other. They don’t all talk at the same time necessarily, but sometimes they do.
My head is often a jumble of “Don’t say that,” “I’m hungry” “who does he think he is?” “I need to help them” “what is she saying?” “I don’t feel good” “what is the right thing to say” and the latest theory about iconic exegesis of the book of Exodus.
The Bible has a lot to say about a lot of spirits, but I just want to point out a few
In the passage quoted above, Paul talks about “the flesh”. We have been more influenced by puritanical thinking about this term than Paul’s own ideas. The “flesh” isn’t so much an evil part of us that causes us to be selfish or sinful, but it is closer to what scientists popularly call our “animal brain” or the core of our brain that has a bundle of instinctual responses. That is where our “fight or flight” response is located, our sexual lust, our need to make a chocolate sundae at 10pm even though our doctor tells us that it will inflame our acid reflux… is that just me? Sorry.
Anyway, the flesh isn’t always bad. If we didn’t have it, we probably wouldn’t have kids or we would be in much more dangerous situations and the entire species would die out. We need to be careful about the flesh because of what Jesus says, “the flesh is weak.” The flesh is all instinct, which means that it doesn’t think things out, and often tricks us to do things that just isn’t a good idea. Note that in Paul’s list of the works, or results, of the flesh, that most of them have to do with discordance or animosity. That’s because the flesh doesn’t really take into account other people, only how things affect us.
Another voice that can crop up are things that just aren’t real. Hearing things that aren’t there, seeing things that aren’t there. Often these illusions also drive us to do strange things that wouldn’t make sense if the voices weren’t there speaking to us. This is the voice of delusion, and when the gospels talk about “evil spirits” this is often what they are talking about. Generally not good to listen to, but also difficult to discern.
Then we have the million voices around us that we hear everyday. The voice of advertisements, our friends on the internet, our parents (even if they have passed on, we still hear their voices), political necessities, what we learned in school, in books, from the news channels we pay attention to. This is what the Bible calls “the world”. And the world can say a lot of things, but more often than not, when they come in our head, they are a bunch of “shoulds” that aren’t necessary. The world wants to limit our options and control our actions, when God doesn’t limit us nearly as much. I have to say, it is difficult to say no to an ethical requirement that simply isn’t necessary.
A lot of people say that “satan” is a person that tempts us. The Bible’s portrait of Satan is a lot more complicated. The term “satan” is a Hebrew word that means “accuser”. That is a formal position in a court that pins the blame of wrongdoing on someone. Like a district attorney, or a prosecutor. The blamer, the accuser, the one who condemns. And every single one of us has an active part of ourselves that points fingers. That looks for the blame and then tries to pin that blame on a scapegoat. That impulse to judge, to condemn and then to punish is, according to the Bible, a satanic impulse. And inevitably, it leads to someone being blamed and punished wrongly. The satanic spirit is alive and well in the church, and it always has been. It is this spirit that killed Jesus, and it kills others. Because the purpose of the satanic spirit, according to the book of John, is not just to find someone to blame, but to destroy. The satanic spirit wants to get rid of impurities, of anything that causes any kind of evil. And the most insidious version of this spirit is when we turn this blame and destruction on ourselves.
Then we have the Holy Spirit. By the name, we might think that the Holy Spirit is about purity or cleansing, to get rid of any weak, sinful part. Maybe she might be thought that way, but the Holy Spirit is actually the Spirit that encourages us to do practical, loving acts. Look at what Paul says about the fruit, or the results, of the Spirit: The one fruit is Love. And love is: joy in others, peace between others, patience with others, doing acts of kindness to others, and more. We know the Holy Spirit is speaking to us because the Spirit is giving us ways to be compassionate and caring to others, whether we feel caring or compassionate at all. The spirit gives us the option of love. The Spirit doesn’t compel us, like delusion and doesn’t blame us like the satanic spirit. Rather, the holy spirit gives us the option of love, the possibility of love. And then leaves it for us to pick up.
There are two main things to do with our voices:
-Discern the spirits
Recognize that we have multiple voices and we need to decide between them. This is maturity stuff, but many people haven’t gotten this far. I’ve met many people that just do something because they think of it. When we are silent and meditative, we have more and more options set before us, and we can better chose between them. God wants us to be in a place so that we can discern the different voices for what they are and to chose.
-Listen to the Spirit
Second, God wants us to especially pay attention to the Spirit of love. This is harder than we might think. Because our room full of voices pull us this way and that and a lot of the voices sound equally good or plausible. God is constantly telling us that the path of compassion, the path of caring, the path of generosity, the majesty and grace of God-- that is the voice to pay attention to.
How do we activate a voice? We act on the voice. The more we act in accord to a voice, the stronger that voice will be. Is that because the spirit is speaking more or because we have deeper paths of synapses in our brains? I don’t know. But if we speak out our blame and anger, that is what we will hear more. If we follow our compulsions for hot fudge sundaes, then our natural compulsions will rule us. If we act on being over scrupulous, then those compulsions will rule us. But if we give in to the compulsion to be generous, to be kind-hearted, we will find the Spirit of God more and more leading us. This is the life of being led by the Spirit, of taking up the opportunities to be compassionate, to be gentle, even when we wouldn’t, normally.