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June 30, 2017

Blog Photo New College Berkeley

July 2017
Jill C. Boyce


"The light in your home has changed so much since we first got together last fall,” observed one of the graduate students at our final gathering for group spiritual direction. The living room was flooded with a soft evening light, which lingered in the space. I was surprised that this engineering graduate student would notice such a thing, and yet it seemed to reflect the increasing attentiveness to God’s presence each of the students had experienced over the months of our gatherings. Within the complexity of their studies, issues on campus, issues amongst the Christian student groups, and issues in the greater world, there was a growing sense of abiding in Jesus’ love over the months. Yes, it was the light in a home’s living room, but—more importantly—the Light of the Loving God in our midst was aglow.  

Last September I spoke about group spiritual direction with the UC Berkeley graduate student Christian groups meeting under the umbrella of InterVarsity and Veritas Graduate Fellowship on campus. I explained that group spiritual direction is a small gathering of four to six people, which meet once a month for contemplative listening and prayer, and I serve as the director. Those who participated would join in listening deeply to one another share about his or her real life, while also joining together in times of silent prayer on behalf of the person who shared, believing that God was in all of it. In extending the invitation to the larger group, I also mentioned that our gatherings were a safe and confidential space where all were welcomed.  

Having had no prior experience with individual or group spiritual direction, the five students (four women and one man) who showed up at my house were clearly people of strong personal faith, as well as eager and curious folks. Perhaps due to their lives of commitment to their graduate studies at Berkeley, they were equally committed to coming monthly and to diving wholeheartedly into the process.  

We met in my home near the campus. The lighting of the candle and a time of prayerful silence opened our monthly times together. This time of transition seemed crucial for these busy, pressured students to be fully present to the Holy and to one another. They each expressed how much they “live in their heads,” and that they were hungry for the calm, restful, attentive space of such a group as this.  

Over the course of the months, we engaged in various spiritual disciplines, such as Lectio Divina, St. Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen (in which a day or a month is looked back upon, noticing where he or she was drawn closer to God, or turned further away from God), along with various other ways of noticing God in all of their lives.  

As I reflect back on the year, what was most profound was not the words, but the sense of God’s presence in the space, in the group, in the love and in the care for one another. It was as though God was saying to us all, “Yes, I love you regardless of what you accomplish or how you identify.” “Yes, less is more.” “Yes, you are mine in all of life’s circumstances.”  

The seeds of this awareness grew, starting with our first group meeting which revealed the surprise of tension and tears expressed especially by a couple of individuals in the group. I did not know the details of the issues bringing these people to tears, but clearly there was pain and sorrow being experienced by some of the students. I closed that first group time by saying these words: “I don’t know what is behind all of these feelings and the issues, but I’d like to say again that all are welcomed here, and I believe God is here in our midst.”  

What blossomed over the months was the ongoing commitment within the group to honest sharing, to caring for one another, to seeking the Holy Spirit in his or her life, to sharing the truth of each life even amongst differences, to listening to each other and to the growing awareness of God’s love for each of them. In the spaciousness, quiet, patient listening, and authenticity, each student was truly heard and knew he or she belonged to a loving God. A simple home’s living room and a regular gathering in trust that the Holy Spirit is present, allowed the glow of the Holy to expand within and without us all.      


Posted on June 30, 2017 at 9:48 PM

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June 3, 2017

Blog Photo New College Berkeley

June 2017
Susan S. Phillips


  A few weeks ago about a dozen of us were sitting around a large wooden table in Susie Lipps’s welcoming home in the wine country. Sharon Gallagher and Susie were leading us in a Wine Country Memoir-Writing Retreat, prompting us to reflect on different topics. For example, the vineyards are like communities, the particular members sharing soil, sunshine, and flourishing. They wondered how we have experienced community in our lives.  

  Not surprisingly at a New College Berkeley retreat, my mind went to that community. These days the staff and trustees of the ministry are meeting frequently as we plan the 40th anniversary celebration on September 30th, at which our longtime friend Mark Labberton will speak.  

  Sitting near the vineyards with my fellow retreatants as we all wrote in silence, my mind went to a previous NCB anniversary celebration, and this is what I wrote:  

  Fifteen years ago I was in a pinch. Hundreds of people were coming to New College’s 25th anniversary celebration, eager to hear John Stott speak, and John had just phoned to tell me he had fallen at his country place and broken his leg. He would not be joining us, but he was recovering well.  

  Alone in my third-floor office I prayed, called my husband to ask for his prayer, and I worried. So many people would be disappointed. What could be done? Who else would John’s admirers be happy to spend an evening listening to? How would anyone that popular be available two weeks ahead of the event? Would anyone in our extended community come to the rescue?  

  My eyes scanned the books crowding my shelves. So many amazing people had come through NCB and taught for us. The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson caught my eye. Eugene had influenced me and many at our school through his teaching for us and especially through his writing. It seemed a long shot, but I dialed the number of his Montana home. I knew he was immersed in writing and fending of all invitations, so I took a deep breath and prayed.  

  Jan, Eugene’s wife and sometimes guard, answered the phone. I didn’t tell her why I was calling when I asked to speak to Eugene, and I wasn’t sure I’d get past her to him. Jan hesitated and then said, “Okay, I’ll get him.” Phew. My hands were clammy, but folded in prayer.  

  “Hello, Susan,” Eugene said in his warm, gravelly voice. I could almost see the twinkle of his eyes. My sad tale blurted out, ending in a request, “I’d so love for you to come and speak for us, Eugene. We’d all love to hear you. I’m really sorry to be asking this of you!”  

  Eugene took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and after some very long moments said, “I’m a sucker for folks in trouble.”  

  Amazing grace. I prayed again—this time in thanks!— and said to Eugene, “I think from now on that will be my definition of a Christian.” He chuckled. And he’s chuckled every time I’ve reminded him of it, including on that lovely anniversary night fifteen years ago.  

  That’s Christian kindness, Christian community. I have been nurtured, grown, and flourished in it.I am grateful. I hope you’ll join our community in gratitude and celebration on September 30th.  


Susan Phillips is Executive Director, New College Berkeley.

Posted on June 3, 2017 at 1:25 PM

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