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October 31, 2015

Susan S. Phillips
November 2015

  New College Berkeley sends you Thanksgiving greetings. May we all stay the course as we follow Jesus Christ, invigorated by God’s grace on the “pilgrim way.”

  New College Berkeley was founded in the spring of 1977—nearly forty years ago. Unlike the children of Israel in the wilderness, we have not experienced these years as dry, desert years. As we look forward to our 2017 anniversary, living in a drought-stricken state, it’s tempting to think of Mosaic stories and imagery of the Israelites’ desert decades. But our experience has been more like that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Though there have been occasions of anxiety, depletion, and even grief, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus, like those with him on that road, we’re invigorated by joy.

  At the end of Luke’s Gospel (24:13-35) we read about two people who met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They were grieving the persecution destroying their community, most significantly the execution of their teacher and friend, unrecognized as the person speaking to them as they walked. Some New Testament scholars claim these people were Cleopas (who also appears in John 19:25) and his wife Mary (Jesus’ aunt) who had stood at the foot of the cross witnessing the death of her nephew, who she believed to be God’s Son. Days later, after observing the Jewish Sabbath with their family in Jerusalem, the grieving couple fled the city.

  On the seven-mile walk to Emmaus, Jesus approached them. Without fanfare or triumphalism, he arrived so unobtrusively that they weren’t frightened into silence or flight. He expressed interest in them: “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” The question brought them to a standstill. As they stopped, their deeper feelings surfaced.

  What we read next are the words of traumatized people. Hopes and fears mingled. Confusion reigned. They had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but he was killed. Angels at the empty tomb told some women that Jesus had risen from the dead, but no one had seen him. Yes…but. After drawing out their story, Jesus told them the narrative of his life, foretold in Scripture and lived in their lifetimes. Still they did not recognize him.

  Eventually, after arriving at their home in Emmaus, the two people recognized Jesus at the table as he broke bread and gave it to them. In that moment light was shed on their past experiences in Jerusalem, and they remembered that their hearts had burned within them as Jesus spoke with them on the road. With their sudden recognition, Jesus disappeared. Without his accompaniment and seemingly without fear, they then hurried back to their community in Jerusalem with the joyful news.

  We see this movement time and again in the people in our New College Berkeley classes and at our retreats. People come with honest faith, doubt, hope, and fears. As they turn toward God in the hours we spend together, the light of grace shines on their lives and into their hearts. Then—even though circumstances haven’t changed at all—they receive God’s joy and that joy overflows into their relationships, work, and ministry.

  May you know that joy this Thanksgiving season.

Posted on October 31, 2015 at 9:13 PM

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October 1, 2015

Peggy Alter
October 2015


  I anticipated regret and sadness. After all I loved this house with its spectacular Bay Views: fog creeping under the Golden Gate Bridge, or roaring in dramatically to crash over Angel Island; the flaming sunsets, or even stunning clear days. I expected the pain at the surrender of possessions and loss of generous space. But I have been stunned by waves of joy and gratitude. 

  In recent months when illness pressed upon us a need to move, I was swept with gratitude for 38 generous years. I wanted to touch the house: my desk, a door, the banister and say “thank you.” We say we own a house, but do we? It has outlived the one who built it as well as the man from whom we bought it. And, please God, may it outlive us and nurture another family with its spaciousness and hospitality. Somehow that thought floods me with joy.

  Our house offered much room for rich busy lives: projects, callings, vocations and avocations, hobbies. Downsizing is an awesome task. I pick up cherished figures from three bible stories of Godly Play, look at them tenderly, slip them into their cloth bag with appropriate books and hand it to the delighted pastor whose church has not yet experienced this Montessori style curriculum.

  The neighbor boys who helped me make Christmas cookies last December assist me in cleaning out one very low cupboard. I give them the cookie cutters. Friends come to help me clear, pack and remove. I find myself handing away books I thought I could never live without. “Here, I am sure you will enjoy this.” I meet with a college junior interested in psychology. I pull the basics off my abundant shelf “Try these.”

  I become reckless and say to my grandchildren, “Take a look and see what you want.” I hand them pictures from the walls. The telescope. My turntable with some vinyl records. One young man steps into my office to help. “What a pretty rug,” he remarks about one we bought in Turkey. “It’s yours,” I reply. “And don’t forget to take the wine glasses.”

  A friend of my sister comes for the dining room set, a folding antique with six ladder back chairs. She is thrilled. Our son takes the living room couch and two chairs. We send 6 boxes to our daughter in Portland. These items which I have loved will live on to bless others.

  At the end of the day I am awash with delight from watching delight on their faces. What is that the beatitudes tell us? It is more blessed to give than to receive.


Posted on October 1, 2015 at 2:33 PM

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