Often God Speaks and Acts Through a Quiet Soul: Lessons from Cora Evans
Recently, I was given the opportunity to attend a middle school outdoor science lab as an adult chaperone. The camp where the lab took place focuses on how Catholic faith coincides with reason. One evening, we went to a nearby lake nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Arriving close to dusk, lanterns were spaced around the perimeter of the lake. We were each given a glow stick to attach to our backpacks for the purpose of reflecting on God’s beauty during a night hike.
Each person was staggered in their start so that they could walk around the lake on their own. I will always remember when I completed my walk around the lake (it was about a mile) and found spaced out around the shoreline 25 students. None of them were saying a word to any other. It was very apparent to me, however, that they were not sitting there idly. Everyone was quiet, but we were not surrounded by silence by any stretch of the imagination. There was much for our senses to take in. The strong wind whistled around us, the moon reflected on the lake, and we felt the coldness of the mountain air. As we sat, interiorly, in our quietness, we were engaging with the majesty of God.
In one of Cora Evans’ letters to her spiritual director, Fr. Frank Parrish, S.J., Cora speaks of the importance of quietness vs. silence. She writes,
“Christ was a quiet Man . . . He was not uncouth or rowdy. All His actions were done for the love of His Father. One of the virtues of quietness is the love of solitude and the will to seek loneliness of self for at least five minutes a day, where soul and body speak alone with God.”
Cora Evans wished to reflect on the importance of quietness as it relates to our prayer life. In the letter, she takes time to make a distinction between quietness and the heretical idea of Quietism. Quietism rose to popularity during the 1670s and 1680s throughout Europe. Adherents to Quietism sought to hear the voice of God by making their mind completely blank and have no thoughts at all enter their mind. According to Quietism, it was only then that the voice of God would be able to enter.
Quietism was proclaimed a heresy by Pope Innocent XI in 1687 and for good reason. For one, it would support acts taken by man under the false premise that God told him to do it. Sadly, we have many court case examples of this in our world where supposedly “the voice of God” told someone to do one thing or another.
Quietism, by definition, also puts us in the driver’s seat regarding when the voice of God speaks to us. Cora Evans wrote,
“The error of Quietism was like a thief trying to force the locks of Heaven’s door in order to gain entrance to mysticism. That door cannot be forced or unlocked from the outside . . . God alone has the key.”
As much as our pride and ego may wish to think otherwise, we are servants of the King. We cannot force the King to speak to us through mystical experiences when we please. These are special graces given to us by Him.
So what does Cora Evans suggest as an alternative to this? In her letter to Fr. Parrish she writes that the quiet soul is filled with “peace and active understanding” (Emphasis added). Our senses are involved in our active understanding, since our bodies and our minds are made good. Therefore, Cora insists that at least one of our senses is active while engaging in quietness and actively contemplating God. She gives the example of how washing dishes can be a time of when we can speak with God. In the clattering sound of the dishes we can “ . . . become a citizen of Jerusalem and pretend they are the wild clatter of hoofs taking the soldiers to oversee the Crucifixion. A QUIET soul is an inventor.”
In my home, my wife spoils me daily by cooking and baking wonderful food. Therefore, I am always on dish duty. Taking this idea, I decided to wash the dishes while maintaining a quietness of soul to see what would happen. Here is what I prayerfully saw, heard, and felt around the kitchen:
The sound of wooden cupboards opening and closing. The sound of the wood reminded me of St. Joseph in his carpenter shop.
- I see a cutting board with bread crumbs on them. I am reminded of the leftovers from the multiplication of the loaves and the joy of sharing a meal with others.
- I see a bottle of wine and think about grapes and vineyards. I think of how Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5). God tends His vineyard and wishes for me to mature and grow in holiness.
- I feel the running water on my hands and it reminds me of the washing of feet and the year when I was fortunate to have my feet washed at my parish.
- I hear my wife breathing and am thankful for the gift I have in her. Through our vocation of marriage, I have a special gift in loving her as Christ loves His Church. God wills both of us to keep breathing first so that we may know and love Christ on this earth and secondly so that we may know and love each other.
Normally, when I do the dishes I try to do them as quickly as possible. I usually begin to run around like Martha from the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 10: 38-42). After having some quietness of soul, I realized that I was taking a perspective much more aligned with Martha’s sister, Mary. I was interiorly quiet. Keeping in mind Christ’s humanity, I was better able to see my kitchen with Christ’s eyes and be thankful with what I saw (even, to a certain extent, the clutter).
My “burden” of doing the dishes was transformed into something beyond myself. Our daily work, be it physical or mental, can be offered to Christ and made into a form of prayer. Cora Evans quoted a poem by Sister M. Teresino toward the end of her letter. A part of this poem says:
“Be still, my heart, beneath the rod,
And murmur not;
He, too, was man-The Son of God-
And shared thy lot.”
I would encourage anyone to try this form of quietness with a daily activity. Christ wishes to enter into our monotony and our mundane tasks. I hope to keep this practice as well. I better realized that the view from my kitchen looks rather beautiful. I also felt reassurance that I am surrounded by so many good things.
Even when I have any kind of anxiety about the present or the future, having some quietness of soul helps me to focus on God’s love for me, in that particular moment. I feel more grounded in where I am and more at peace that I am where I need to be, even if I’m doing the dishes.