“I will hear what the Lord God speaks within me”
Thus begins Book III of The Imitation of Christ (Book IV in some editions). The words are actually a paraphrase of Psalm 85:8 – restated by the author in the pure gold of personal inner experience. The Bible verse is more general:
“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.”
In my opinion, Book III of The Imitation is the spiritual heart of the whole work. It contains writing so high and unusually bold that it is easy to imagine that it was purposely placed after the admonitions and warnings in Books I and II – so that potential readers might be ‘screened’ for humility.
“Blessed is the soul that hears the Lord speaking within her, and receives from his mouth the word of consolation. Blessed the ears that catch the pulse of the divine whisper, and take no notice of the whisperings of this world.” (Bk III, Chap 2)
I want to suggest that ‘the gift of ears’ ought to be among the spiritual gifts listed by Paul – which of course it is not. But I think the New Testament does much to suggest the importance of inspired hearing.
What is most important to understand is that the “divine whisper” is never given for group prophecy – they are never a means by which a listener may lord it over neighbor or church. Always are they to be received as personal admonition and enlightenment.
For example, a prayer like this one, which the author makes, clearly evokes a level of responsibility which everyone must choose for himself. It cannot be forced upon members of the group who are not prepared:
Let not Moses, nor any of the prophets, speak to me;
Speak Thou, rather, O Lord God, the inspirer and enlightener of all the prophets;
For Thou alone, without them, can perfectly instruct me; but they, without Thee, will avail me nothing…
They give the letter, but Thou dost disclose the spirit.
They announce mysteries, but Thou dost unlock their secret meaning.
They declare the commandments, but Thou dost enable us to fulfil them.
They point out the way, but Thou givest strength to walk in it.
They work outwardly only, but Thou dost instruct and enlighten the heart.
They water without, but Thou givest the increase. (Book III, Chap 2)
I think the ‘gift of ears’ – rightly used – is a likely candidate for an expanded list of spiritual gifts – I would go so far as to say it is the master-key to all gifts of the Spirit:
Do Thou speak, O Lord my God, the eternal Truth,
lest I die and prove fruitless,
if I be admonished outwardly only, and not enkindled within;
lest I be condemned at the Judgment
because the word was heard and not fulfilled,
known and not loved,
believed and not observed.
(Book III, Chap 2)