Heed the Shepherd in Your Head

Earlier this week The Wall Street Journal recommended a new source of inspiration to its readers: their own inner voice. In an article titled “Self Talk, or a Heart-to-Heart with Your Closest Friend,” author Elizabeth Bernstein describes self-talk as what happens when you make yourself the target of your own comments or advice.  She quotes Ethan Kross, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, as saying “When people think of themselves as another person it allows them to give themselves objective, helpful feedback.” She also describes someone who lives this philosophy by giving herself daily affirmations and coaching herself.

I think we should get our inspiration from a different Kross. The one that starts with C and that rhymes with sheep and that stands for you and me.

This Sunday’s readings remind us that the voice we sheep need to hear is our Shepherd’s. He’s the one who gave his life to keep his flock from straying.

“By his wounds you have been healed,” says Peter in our second reading (1 pt 2:20b-25). “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

The fact there were many disciples of “this corrupt generation,” as Peter called the bad shepherds of his age, should make us wary of today’s New-Age shepherds like Professor Kross.  There’s nothing wrong with talking inside your head, but it should be done with the realization that you’re not alone in there. And if you’re smart, you’ll direct your comments to that Holy Spirit inside then shut up for a while and listen for an answer. Initiate that conversation with your own spirit of repentance and you’re likely to hear the Spirit of Redemption, as Peter tells us in our first reading (acts 2:14a, 36-41):

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off.”

That kind of talking in your head is called prayer—a word that did not appear in the WSJ article. In this kind of conversation, you talk then listen for a familiar voice to give you the direction you seek.  Our Gospel reading from John (jn 10:1-10) quotes the source of this voice—Jesus—who explains the guiding force of the shepherd to his sheep:

“He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

By all means, talk inside your head. But don’t listen to the rumbling echo of your own voice. Shut up and wait for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Then follow it through the narrow gate.

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