Part two of a three part blog series entitled Listening to the Light – in this blog post I reflect on the nature of the human conversations that were had on the Society of St. Columba’s pilgrimage around England and Wales in September 2015.
It was always a hunch that in inviting an indigenous native elder to Britain, might unlock something for us concerning our own indigenous British heritage in Christ. We were not disappointed. Our pilgrimage revealed to us that we have so much more in common than we have in difference. The oral traditions that Larry and men and women like him have kept alive through the art and vocation of the story teller, harks back to the orality of Britain’s pre-latin culture and the early Apostolic Fathers of our own islands like St. Columba. Adomnan, the seventh Abbot of Iona, writing in the second preface to the Life of St. Columba;
Let it be understood that I shall tell only what I learnt from the account handed down by our elders, men both reliable and informed, and that I shall write without equivocation what I have learnt by diligent inquiry either from what I could find already in writing or from what I heard recounted without a trace of doubt by informed and reliable old men*
The earliest gospel stories and traditions that emerged from within the British & Irish Church were carried and retold on the lips of elders, bards and holy men & women. That these stories were then entrusted to the written word, both preserved them, (yet I wonder) may have also negated their social impact, by resigning them to academic study and examination. What is a stories true purpose, other than to inspire men and women to greater and greater measures of holiness, righteous living and devotion to God. But this is guess is a point that may need further exploration at a later date.
Creating a listening circle became a natural rhythm that we soon adopted. It is odd to think that this simple change in the dynamics of how we gathered could have such a profound impact on the quality of how we listened, shared and encountered God. Culturally in Britain we sit in rows, whether politically or in a religious context, benches, pews, chairs are all aligned to face forward towards a seat of power, or an opposition (in the case of the British Parliament). The north Atlantic Church is particularly guilty of this, with its focus on a high altar (in the case of Catholicism) or the pulpit (in the case of the Protestants). We align to face what we are informed is a more powerful symbol than ourselves, the Eucharist or the Bible. These symbols are meant to represent the Divine. Yet when we consider the symbol that is most in the Image of God is the human person, it is counter-intuitive that we should substitute facing ourselves, for a book or an altar. Forming a circle where there is neither head nor tail, where everyone faces a central point creates a dual dynamic. One, it equalises everyone, no-one is greater or less, there are no seats or platforms of power, merely the very humanising reality of we all face it other as equals. Secondly it asks us to look inside. ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21) said Jesus, or ‘among you’ as the NRSV puts it, either way, being found internally by God among people is a profound moment as we discovered time and time again. As we sat in the circle, and people shared we discovered together that we all more alike in our common humanity than we are different. We shared the truth our lives and how we were feeling, and in sharing our feeling, others felt with us and pathos of empathy ushered in the presence of Christ.
You have all the time in the world in many regards was the mantra of our journey. In the business of the world, time is a premium, measured in money to hour ratio’s. Any quick perusal of the local Christian bookshop will find you a myriad of Christian self help books, all designed around the premise that we need to function better as a Christian in the world. How strange it increasingly became for us as we slowed down, took time to listen and arrived at a place were time was seen as a friend, a companion introducing us to the mystery of the eternal God. I guess from an eternal perspective, time is of an irrelevance and not something that is able to restrict motion, movement, intention or in anyway shape outcomes. The I AM is timeless, our destiny is timeless and we do literally have all the time in the world to give ourselves to that which matters most in the eternal scheme of things – God. But how do we speak to God?
Our language that speaks to God is the oxymoron we encountered. The phrase comes from a Tewa Song given to Larry by Dewey Healing, a Hopi Elder. It was shared among us and resonated deeply with whomever it was shared.
They told us to remember; to care for each other, to embrace one another.
They told us to take these Holy thoughts into our feelings; our emotions; our being; our intuition;
to live in this manner because our life is Holy.
This is why they tell us.
What will happen when we lose our language that speaks to God?
Will we lose the way we have to be heard and understood?
What will happen to mankind? Have we gone so far, far away?
These are my thoughts I sing about.
Language is more than vocabulary linked to ethnicity, it is the very fabric of the Universe and is present in every living creature. We all have a language, of voice, movement, expression, experience and feeling that combined creates a wonderful psalmody that echoes throughout eternity. It is our own unique person-print that is our essence and soul, out true selves and our true people in harmony and symphony with the Creator. Prayer perhaps is the deepest well in which we discover our true language, our language of deep joy, pain, suffering, of love, and to lose this, have it squeezed from us as a people is a devastating horror. Encircling our conversations; humanity facing humanity in conversation with God drew from us a clarity of listening and speaking that for many of us we have only rarely been privileged to be a part of. Listening in a circle is listening indeed.
- Adomnan. The Life of St. Columba. (trans. R. Sharpe). Penguin Books, London 1995. p.105.