We live in an era where a lot of people are chattering endlessly about getting in touch with the 'inner self' and hearing the 'inner voice', the voice of the spirit deepest inside of you. Bookshelves are jammed with books and videos on meditative techniques, transcendent spiritual experiences, and ways to build self-identity and inner confidence. The Internet's many voices image the same message, almost in unison. Talk-radio and lifestyle magazines pump the message without ceasing, even as their commercials try to make you depend on someone else to supply sex-appeal-in-a-bottle. It's also the obsession of seemingly every spiritually-interested writer, and a steady stream of gurus and self-help speakers. Most of today's spirituality is like Peer Gynt's onion : peel off the top layers, and you find an empty core. Because of that, I think that eventually, and unfortunately, the generation after X will flee from that sort of 'spirituality' as if it were a parlor trick of wishful thinkers, entrepreneurs, and crackpots. If spirituality is to stick, people need to grasp onto the real stuff, without the PR hype, the best-selling authors, and the magical glow. It's said that there's nothing new under the sun, and the same is true with this. The pendulum of history swings regarding how we are to be guided in life, from following the outside structure to following the inner voice. Where there's a swinging pendulum, there's a 'paradoxical tension', where the different approaches correct each other. On one hand, you find yourself through the inner voice - that is, through exploring yourself. On the other hand, you find yourself through order, place, work, authority - in short, through other people. We usually don't find God around us or within in unless we are paying attention. Sometimes, God breaks in when we're not looking -- but brace yourself when that happens, for God is about to shake you. In the times we live in today, we strain to hear the inner voice amidst all the noise of living. WHY? It's a worthwhile goal, to hear this inner voice. It is where God's whispers are to be found : sweet nothings about God's love, hints about where to turn, the quiet early warnings that become shouts if we don't pay attention to them. It's where our prayers ramble without stumbling over words, where ideas begin, images dance and imagination flies, where emotions find root and spiritual longings spring forth. On the one hand, it is where we find the stuff that makes us human, the same stuff all other humans have. On the other hand, it's the home of the differences which define each of us as a person. The experiences you can find within bring us to joy, and are there to be cherished and drawn upon all life long. The Journey As we journey to hear the inner voice, there are some things we need to keep in mind afterward, no matter how overpowering our discoveries are, no matter what anyone claims -- and no matter how much it seems otherwise. 1. You won't get so deep that you're beyond yourself. You will always be there no matter how far in you go. There are some things that follow from this : You won't get so deep that you're past your spiritual capabilities. (They aren't boundless, but they are awesome.) You won't get so deep that you're past your own evil and foolishness. (That too is awesome in its depth. This means that sometimes the inner voice is the voice of a fool. That's one of the many reasons there are 'outer' ways of learning what God wants of you.) You'll always be bearing some of the 'outer world' with you. (Your personhood didn't grow up in a vacuum. The stamp of your world and your loved ones is found in some way on even the deep recesses of your soul. Just as important, when you're down deep, God often redirects you outward, with love toward specific people and for people in general. This may drive you to do care work, or to create pathways to justice in your society.) You won't understand it all. You'll have to live and act with less than a full understanding. (But you can trust the One whose understanding is full.) 2. You won't get so deep that you're too deep for the Devil. The Anti-Spirit operates quite well at any depth of spirit. There's no place inside of you that is safe from temptation or torment. There's no protected place to hide. Satan is not bested by fleeing, hiding, or fighting, but by trusting in God. 3. You won't get into God. Perhaps when the noise of existence is quieted down enough to clearly hear the Spirit, you might get an awesome experience, reported to be as if your spirit was being burned away and being transformed into light just like that of the Source. That's about as well as we can interpret the spiritual experience of being close to, or 'being with', God. But the 'oneness' that we get is a 'oneness' of the kind that is echoed in our closest relationships. It is not, nor will it ever be, anything at all like absorption into God or 'Being' or 'Nothingness'. It may seem that wayfrom our angle, because the experience is so clear and strong. But that's because our own perceptions, even at deep places of spirit, are just too overpowered by it all to know what's going on. God will abide by your yesses and nos, because they're yours, not God's. You will always be you. God will always be God. 4. You won't go far enough 'in' (or 'out') to get past God. God is an Other who is with you at all points of all spiritual journeys. This fact makes relative all talk of 'inner' or 'outer', surface or gut, person or society, creature or creation. God is 'in', deeper than your self can go, beyond even the brightest of enlightenment, the deepest and emptiest of the inner voids, and the darkest nights of the soul. In the burning light, God is its Source. In the tunnel of death, God is in it and is calling you from its bright end. In the swirl of post-consciousness, God is at the hub, powering its churning. In every mystery of matters of existence, God is answer and question. Go to the 'outer realm', and God is there too, busily at work in people, in nature, in gatherings, traditions, celebrations, cultures, and events, and in the words of Scripture. God is not left behind nor limited by time, even when choosing to live and act within it. God isn't pulled apart by the forces within a black hole, nor burned away by giant blue-white stars, nor blown away by supernovae. Go to the edge of existence, and God's waving hello at you from the other side of the edge - and then comes up right beside you. This fact has one very important corollary that is cause for great hope : Do not fear the spiritual journey, wherever it takes you, for God is with you.