“You do not know the value of my words until you have known true hunger for them” (from The Listening Day, by Paul Pastor).
The book looks worn already. And I’ve had it just a few weeks. Pages dog-eared and stuck with post-its. Sentences penciled under, words I want to keep close and not forget.
Paul Pastor is an editor and a writer. He is an artist, and a listener. His first book, The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit, reawakens me to the role of the Holy Spirit in my life. And his latest book, The Listening Way: Meditations on the Way, Vol 1, published in April, inspires me to lean in close to God. Come on in. Listen. Come on in. What can be better than that?
I love how Paul Pastor listens for God’s voice as he edits and writes (fun fact: Paul was my most-amazing editor for Breathing Eden). He is thoughtful and kind, witty and wise. He is a person you want to hang out with and ask the good stuff. And I wanted you to meet him.
I wanted to ask him how he hears God–how he listens for him, how he spends time with Him, how he hears His voice. And I also wanted to give you a chance to win a copy of his newest book, which I know you’ll love.
So, go and grab yourself something delicious to drink. . . . and then come back to read my interview with Paul. After the post, I’ll give you all the details about how to enter the giveaway to win your own copy of The Listening Day! (Paul is being super generous and giving away five copies!)
Here we go:
- Paul, what are some of your very favorite things to do with God? How do you fit these things into your week, your day?
What a great question. I work to “practice the presence” of God in the middle of my daily life and routine. This means being aware that God is always present with me, and that he invites me to be present with him, here and now. While I love to set time aside specifically for prayer or other connection, I honestly find that my richest times with God are usually the ones where my hands are busy—washing dishes, weeding our rambling garden, driving, chopping firewood—but my mind and heart are at rest.
- What obstacles distract you from getting into God’s presence–and what is your favorite way to pull yourself back?
There are two categories of obstacles for me: external and internal. The external ones are what we typically think of as distractions: the buzzing phone, details about work or money, stress, frustrating events, and so on. Those are the things that can pull my “eye” away from God because something right up in my face is demanding my attention.
But the internal distractions are much more subtle, and harder to fight. They are distractions that I often don’t recognize as distractions—things like personal insecurity, fears about the worth or value of my work or ministry, pride, patterns of sin or unhealthy thinking, routine exhaustion, and so on. Those are what threaten to pull my “heart” away from God. Those are the deep distractors.
How do I pull myself back? I don’t, mostly. He does. Practicing his presence means that he joins me in those places, or perhaps I join him, or perhaps a bit of both. Every so often I snap out of whatever cycle of distraction I’m in to recognize that I am missing an opportunity to be fully with him. But that “snapping out” is usually his work, I just catch up with him eventually, and say “ok.”
I am learning though, that I am much more likely to “snap out” when I am living a life that is trying to bring together my body, mind, and soul into the same time, place, and project. When I live as a unified person, a unified Christian.
Man, we get so scattered and distracted. We dilute our attention, often on purpose. It keeps us from being people of intention, focus, power, and originality. It saps us. Unifying ourselves under Jesus’s blood and the Father’s will is life-changing.
- How would you define God’s “voice”? Do you think it is possible for everyone to hear Him?
God’s voice is the personal communication of his Spirit to his people. It’s mostly (but not always) a metaphor.
We “hear” his Spirit in four main ways: through the holy writings in the Bible, through the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, through nature (what one old theologian called God’s “eternal law” expressed in the created world), and through the words and actions of other people. Those avenues all complement one another and work together to be avenues for God to speak—really personally speak—to us.
Anyone can hear the voice of God, and I think everyone does, at some point, though most of us are “educated” and trained to ignore it, and have to re-learn what it sounds like.
To simply live in the world the Creator has made is to hear and understand so much of his heart and mind. Each one of us is made in his image—so the voice of God, in one sense, speaks in the native tongue of our souls. But we have forgotten it, and have forgotten that we have forgotten it.
God loves each of his children, has blessed and redeemed us in his son Jesus, and speaks to us constantly. What is hard for us is discerning that we have heard his voice, and then (harder yet) believing and acting upon what we have heard. Often his voice is simpler and more surprising than we would expect. Just read the stories of the Bible—God’s people are usually expecting him to speak in more obvious ways, to say more obvious things, and do all the work of faith for them. But he calls them to trust, relationship, justice, and belief.
Since God’s goal is to grow us in wisdom, love, and maturity in Jesus, he puts the ball in our court, again and again. “I’ve done it all for you,” he seems to say. “Now work out what you are learning. Show me the life of love. Walk like Jesus.”
- How do you discern God’s voice over all the other noise in your life? What are some practical ways to figure out if it is His voice you are hearing–or something else?
One marker of a mature and growing person in our generation is self-control. Self-control is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians. That means God himself is self-controlled, and he wants us to imitate him in it.
At its root, self-control is the ability to say “enough” to oneself. Not easy to learn in a culture of excess and runaway consumption! Living a self-controlled, upright, and godly life with a background of “reality” tv, the slow-drip drug of comparison via social media, and all the appetites of American consumers is … hard.
I’m pondering these words from Paul these days: “I refuse to be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). I want to live that, so I am trying to master the “noise.” There is no law that states our phones need to be always beside us. There is no law that says we need a phone, or any devices that beep. There is no rule that says the Internet gets to determine how you think, feel, sleep, consume, and behave. We need to live as people in charge of ourselves, not simply reacting to the constant stimulus of our culture.
Christian faith says that anything that exercises control over us must be put in its place so that we may give our lives fully to Christ. I try to do that through giving myself permission to be a bit out of touch with things that do not, in the large picture, matter. I find myself happier, more creative, and more productive when I am self-controlled. And much more able to hear God.
Regarding discerning his voice: anything God says to us will encourage the life of love and the fruit of the Spirit. As well, it will not go against properly-read scripture or God’s moral law. Furthermore—and this is vital—if he speaks to you, he will give you the resources and wisdom to interpret and follow what he said. He might not give you everything all at once, but he won’t leave you more distressed or confused than you were before.
If there is confusion, unhealthy fear, contradiction, or just an “ickiness” about “something ‘God said,’” then I become concerned that the “voice” heard wasn’t God’s, but an unhealthy one to be listening to.
- What role does imagination play–if any– in having a conversation with God? Describe your state of mind–or your heart–when listening for God’s voice while writing The Listening Day. What was fun? What was a challenge?
Whew! That’s a big question. God clearly works and speaks through art and imagination—just read the story of Bezalel in Exodus for one example. My craft, profession, and creative calling is writing. It creates a space in which I am not only able to process thoughts and emotions, but communicate them theologically, in relationship to the biblical text.
I wrote The Listening Day committed to and practicing authenticity. I did this for myself first—not the reader. I listened, I prayed, I spent time in the study of scripture and crafting the best words I could find to represent what God is saying to me in and around those texts.
This was deeply enjoyable and satisfying. Also deeply challenging. It is easier to be inauthentic and postured in faith and creativity than it is to be real. Reality doesn’t box with gloves on, and it will take you down. I feel like I spent as much time on my back in the ring, seeing stars, and laughing uproariously through a mouthful of blood as I did actually throwing many artistic punches. (Just read “Unjustification” or “The Bonesetter” in the book for an example.)
When you write that way, you’re not just making stuff up. You’re interpreting it, through the cracked lens of yourself, and it’s rough and raw, and doesn’t promise not to mess you up as a person or an artist. But the drive and call are there, and what else can you do? You write, and pray, and spit a little blood.
But that feeling of fighting lets me know that what I am doing, creatively and spiritually, is starting to be real.
- What are some favorite resources–music, books, media–that you treasure and can’t help recommending to friends?
Music: I’ll just give one recent-ish release, from fellow Portlander and friend-by-extension Liz Vice: There Will Be a Light. It’s theological, gorgeously written, and sounds like soul straight from the 70s. Love it.
Books: Good grief. Where to start? Breathing Eden is a must. Seriously. As is Justin’s new book, Invention. So good. Older books I enjoy? They are nigh infinite. Let’s just go with The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Oh, and all of Jorge Borges’ nonfiction essays, in Collected Nonfictions. Oh again—and Robert Lax’s later minimalist poetry, like Poems, (1962-1997).
Media: Plough Quarterly and Image Journal—two outstanding places where faith and art and deep Christian thought get all mixed up into something beautiful. Also, I am a HUGE fan of The Bible Project—some good friends from Portland doing brilliant, culture-changing work to animate excellent biblical scholarship and help people fall in love with the Bible.
- Music that has inspired you lately?
“The Lark Ascending” – a pastoral orchestral piece by Vaughn Williams
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. (That opening vocal…)
“Jesus for the Jugular,” by The Veils
- Favorite place of beauty this day?
The creek below our kitchen garden—rioting buttercups flowing up from the banks.
- Favorite place to listen for God’s voice?
In my pickup, windows down, driving home along the Columbia River on a spring evening.
- Favorite way to write or read (a posture, a place . . . )?
My little studio, “the Fawn Chapel,” in back of our house, looking out on the woods.
Fresh hop flowers on a hot day.
- Favorite word?
- What captures your imagination?
The idea that I have thoughtlessly walked past Jesus countless times, every day of my life, present in every person I have ever met, and that I have hardly ever recognized him.
Thank you, Paul.