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November 11, 2013

Susan S. Phillips   

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.


For you shall go out with joy,
And be led out with peace;
The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. —Isaiah 55:11-12


           Fewer trees quake and more clap because NEW COLLEGE BERKELEY HAS GONE GREEN. As you noticed this fall, we’ve discontinued automatic mailings of our program brochures to the thousands of people in our constituency. All programs can be viewed, in even greater detail than in print, on our web-site:  If you wish us to send you a print version, just ask. And please note the upcoming 2014 programs on the back of this card, including the date when Earl Palmer will make his annual visit to Berkeley.

           We are to care for our earth, and the apostle Paul told us that we are to “walk, rooted” (περιπατεῖτε, ἐρριζωμένοι or peripateite, errizomenoi) in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7), the jarringly mixed metaphor often side-stepped by translators who choose to write “live, rooted.” But Paul, like the psalmists and prophets (so, like God?) boldly infers that we are walking trees. The tree image captures our rootedness in God’s grace, and the way we grow, thrive, bloom, and bear fruit in relation to the one who gives us life. Yet we also walk, with all the ethical and sanctifying associations we see in Scripture: on the right path, in newness of life. 

           In Isaiah 55 the trees clap for joy. One of the gifts of working at NewCollegeBerkeley is that we see trees walking, and we also get to see them rejoicing. The circumstances of the people we serve are not always ones that would indicate applause. Last fall a student in the “Christian Spiritual Practices” course became a father for the first time, but his visa restrictions meant he wouldn’t meet his child for nearly a year. As he told the class about it, his eyes glistened with sorrow over the separation and also with joy because God had graced his life with a child to love.

           In the spiritual direction groups, all varieties of human experience have been witnessed and borne in the praying circle of others who listen for God’s presence and word in one another’s lives. One spring a member of a group received a terminal diagnosis. The group continued to meet, often at that person’s home. Honesty and love grew. In the valley of that shadow the praying companions experienced God’s presence and care.
It is when we are truly rooted in the Good News that we walk in newness of life. In receiving and metabolizing that Word, we may know both joy and peace, even in the shadow of death and the onslaught of daily life.  And we’re told that the word does not return to God empty. It does that which pleases God, and it thrives. So we trust and celebrate!

           This “word that goes forth” from God is known to us as the Word that was with God in the beginning, became human as Jesus of Nazareth, and called us “friends.” We, too, at NewCollegeBerkeley call you “friends” as we send you these Thanksgiving greetings. We’ve experienced your accompaniment this year as we’ve tended “walking trees” that open their roots and canopies to the Word that flows to and through them.

           Thank you for your prayers for our ministry, and thank you for the other ways you support NCB. As you know this has been a dry season for non-profits, schools, and theological education in general. We receive the refreshing flow of God’s grace through a number of channels, and you are significant among them.

Susan S. Phillips (Ph.D.) is executive director of NewCollegeBerkeley, teaches Christian spirituality at the GTU, RegentCollege, and other seminaries, and is a spiritual director. She is the author of Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction. (September, 2013, November 2013, April 2014, July 2014)


Posted on November 11, 2013 at 10:53 PM

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