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November 27, 2014

Marilyn McEntyre
December 2014

 "Listen through the noise to the music".

 Hermann Hesse 

  Advent has become, among other things, a season of avoiding stores: trying to boycott ”Black Friday,” trying to imagine gift-giving in ways that don’t involve more stuff, trying to navigate a complicated end-of-semester-family-visit-holiday-party-next-semester-prep schedule and still find places and times of quiet—dark churches, solitary paths, lit candles, morning time for slow coffee and slower prayer.  It’s a time when I experience the onset of a seasonal disorder I think of as a variant of the Scrooge Syndrome, generally triggered by the 17th iteration of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” played a little too loudly from an aging speaker system.

  Advent also, of course, brings sounds of the season that lift the heart. Choirs sing Bach’s “Magnificat” and local operas perform “Amal and the Night Visitors.” The patient sound of Salvation Army bell ringers, standing cheerfully by their red collection buckets offers a humble reminder of fidelity to God’s purposes. And even in California occasional rain taps on the rooftop and crisp leaves shuttle in the wind and rustle under our booted feet. 

  My intention this year is to enter Advent as a season of listening, remembering the wise advice one of Hesse’s characters offered another who was straining to hear a precious bit of Mozart on an old radio that offered mostly static: “Listen through the noise to the music.” 

  “Listening through” is one discipline—sharpening the ear’s focus and opening the “deep heart’s core” where Yeats heard the beloved sounds of Innisfree. “Listening into” is another. I learned from a beloved Austrian woman the term “hineinlauschen”—to listen into what another was saying for overtones of longing, hope, hesitation, need. Listening into a child’s back-seat babbling we might hear the sound of learning happening through repetition. Listening into the oft-repeated story of an aging father whose window of memory has narrowed to a small repertoire, we might learn something even lovelier than patience. 

  Other prepositions help me imagine the spiritual discipline of listening as a practice that might stretch and open my heart in new ways:

  I can “listen beyond” the predictable complaints of a neighbor for the low drone of loneliness she endures like tinnitus in the ear and, hearing that, move toward her rather than making an excuse to hasten away.

  I can “listen up”—an expression I like for the vivid way it suggests a coach’s sudden call to attention. It’s a colloquial equivalent to the liturgical call in the Byzantine rite before the Gospel reading, a variant of the sursum corda: “Wisdom! Be attentive!” It’s a summoning into the present moment that used to be aided by Angelus bells.

  I can even “listen past” the endless loop of sentimental songs-- the irritating invitation to have myself a merry little Christmas and Bing once again dreaming of a white one and those chestnuts still roasting—and direct my attention beyond them to the kindly words people exchange at counters and corners and the “God bless you” of the woman who needs a little spare change and the quiet offers of ordinary assistance to elders: “May I help you with that?”

  Bringing the practice of lectio divina to the familiar gospel stories of the season may give me not only the rich moments of surprise that ancient practice continues to offer but also occasion to cultivate renewed receptivity to the Spirit who speaks with a thousand voices, some of them still and small, and sometimes in words we know so well we barely hear them any more.

  My prayer as I enter this season is a simple one that arises from an awareness of how I have succumbed to noise and haste and from a hope in the renewal that comes in “the dark time of the year”: “God be in my ears and in my hearing.” May I listen, not only on my own behalf but on behalf of others who are dismayed by the static, for “what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.”

Posted on November 27, 2014 at 11:37 PM
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November 1, 2014

Susan S. Phillips
November 2014

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me— my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway! Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way. –Psalm 119:33-37 (The Message)  

Each one of us is on the pilgrim way, following Jesus on the highways and byways of our lives and seeking God’s lessons for living as we go. St. Paul wrote, "Walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4), and New College Berkeley has embraced that invitation as our motto. Each year in our classes, retreats, and year-long spiritual formation programs, we witness pilgrims being invigorated on that pilgrim way of discipleship. One person wrote: “Participation in the group made me aware of God in all of life (every bush!).”

This past June, I learned more about pilgrimage. With some of my family and friends, I walked the ancient pilgrim’s road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain from the middle of Portugal, a journey of a dozen or so miles each day over the course of ten days. Ten of us traveled together, experiencing walking, the newness of each day and vista, and also ninety-degree weather, blisters, and aching joints. Like the person in the New College Berkeley program, I became aware of God in every bush and also in vineyards, small chapels with statues of Jesus, as well as in my physical discomfort, and in the greetings of welcoming strangers.

We are all on pilgrim paths in the company of the “Communion of Saints.” As on the Camino, we sometimes fall in stride with loved ones on the trail, and New College Berkeley programs are occasions of that companionship. The communities that form every year in these classes encourages and invigorates us to contemplate our “pilgrim way.”

In sharing spiritual stories in the classroom and in spiritual direction groups, we catch glimpses of the Holy One in our own and others’ lives. On a walking pilgrimage, people also become keenly aware of the potent mix of clarity and mystery in faith. In countries like Spain, Jesus’ vivid physical and historical presence is depicted on lampposts, churches, and icons all along the way, a powerful reminder of God’s willingness to walk the road of human life. Still, the awareness of God is ineffable on the path, and in the stories of our lives—more easily received than grasped.

Consider these questions: What path are you walking? What helps you be more conscious of the Communion of Saints with whom you “walk,” some far ahead of you on the path, and some walking in your footsteps? And what helps you receive the Way with whom you journey, the One who came into the world that we all might have life, life abundant?

If these questions intrigue you, join us at New College Berkeley for invigoration on the pilgrim path of following Jesus Christ. Study and pray with people who consider this journey the one that really matters during our precious years on earth. Support this ministry of cultivating Christian discipleship. You are our traveling companions, and we are grateful.

Posted on November 1, 2014 at 4:57 PM
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