Sacred Listening – Maybe True Stories

It’s been a weird week, a weird couple of weeks. Simultaneously the children and I are reaching the end of what we can bear of this thing called summer vacation, and every single person I work with is burned out and just… done.

I asked today, am I the only one? The only one who is crabby beyond reason, the only one is so tired? I’m not in the office, these aren’t things that I can see or experience. There is a loneliness that comes from being apart from the greater body of an organization, and I am not complaining, because there are benefits too. But sometimes it feels like people think I eat cake in my pajamas all day.

And I am not the only one.

I spent my 36th birthday (birthdays, by the way, are rapidly becoming just another day for me, and that is not a sad thing, it is just a fact) away at a retreat for deacon school. Many of the people there are not discerning a call to the diaconate, which is fine, they are discerning calls to the priesthood. Many of the people are still in the discernment process, which was interesting to me as my diocese requires at least a nominee status before any of this schooling can begin.

All of the people in my class are wonderful, and if you’re reading me write about something we mutually experienced for the first time, don’t worry, I don’t name names.

There is the woman who became emotional when she spoke to the group, who reminded me of my mother. There is the woman with the lyrical accent and pretty toenails, a woman who reminded me of the late Carol Zepik (may she rest in peace). There are new friends, of course I fell in with the irreverent, let’s go to the BAR! crowd. (Are you truly surprised?)

I meowed at barn cats, I walked three miles in one day around the property and into town where eight or nine of us crowded into a photo booth and took a group picture. And I practiced sacred listening, after trying really hard not to roll my eyes at the entire concept.

The way that we did it was this: You should not make eye contact, not when speaking or when listening.

If you don’t hear completely or understand what the speaker is saying, that is ok. Because you cannot reply.

You cannot ask a clarifying question, offer advice, try to fix.

What we were doing, I realized later that day, was holding a sacred space for the speaker simply to speak. It is amazingly freeing to just say what is on your mind knowing that no response will come, try it sometime with a friend or spouse.

The sacred listening, though I don’t recall much of what was said, or what I said, turned out to be a good thing. I can’t remember the words but I can remember the cadence of the speech as it drifted out over the lawns. I can remember the way the geraniums looked in the sun under a grotto, a shrine to those who have lost children. How one of my new friends deadheaded those flowers, because, like me, she finds it impossible to stop doing what needs to be done.

I wandered around after our trip to the bar, I couldn’t sleep. I went outside and around the grounds, encountered a St. Francis sculpture I was sure, at the time, was a person; crept quietly closer, ready to use one of my nine lives. The building is huge, with only one door that has a code entry system for use after 8pm.

Seeing as how we rolled in from the bar about midnight it was well past time for the doors to be locked. This door came into the building at the chapel, which I explored, reverencing at the altar, peeking at the tabernacle, seeing the candle burning and knowing the body of Christ was nearby.

I walked, fleetly, almost silent in my barefeet up the hill into the cafeteria, poked around, thought about how to make coffee in the morning, about how this would be a bad spot to run when the zombie apocalypse hits, because it is indefensible and full of windows. There was a small hallway that went behind the kitchen, into the darkest of the dark. For some reason I felt brave, and I walked around that corner and encountered a door, it was wooden with a small square window, and it was open about an inch. Suddenly spooked I sprinted back to my room, locked the door and went to bed.

Today I did the work I am paid to do. Tonight I wrote a column which was promptly rejected. I guess there is first time for everything. They want to address the issue I addressed in my column themselves, in a staff column. They asked me if I had another piece, I said I did not.

After some hard moments last weekend I am not looking forward to the next one.

I want so badly just to serve that it is tempting to try and somehow silence my call, to live it out in my daily life and not in any ordained way. I want so badly never to go back to some of the experiences this weekend that the idea of walking away is tempting. I can serve, serve until my feet hurt and I’m double booked and my family hasn’t seen me for weeks… but I know that that kind of serving doesn’t come from a place of call, but from a place of hiding, a place of working so hard one doesn’t have to face what is right in front of them, or what has been walked away from.

Maybe next time, as we keep the some of the hours, as we celebrate Eucharist again, maybe next time we can sing. Maybe next time I will hear the much missed phrase, the Lord be with you, before a brief collect of intercession or thanksgiving is given.

One of the people in class last weekend, I can’t remember which, talked about sacred listening as reminding them of Our Town, where the actors sit on the stage and talk. And so when we had our next quiet period, where talk is frowned upon, where we are to go out and do something, anything, but talk, I accidentally wrote a poem.

Our town/speaking out into the dark space/with only your own voice echoing back at you/echoing your faults and fears/the words caressing the dark chandelier/each carved cornice and dusty seat/floating back to rest at my own bare feet/small pieces of myself/artifacts from some archeological dig/fossils 

Pray for me.

“There’s chatter that’s less of good luck, and more of poor taste, some good fortune no more than a joke, or a blessing misplaced…. but even so I don’t know how these shadows can grow, when nothing ever casted them out. How I came to be at the feet of some dark deity no one ever told me about.” Lauren O’Connell, In the Next Room, from the album Maybe True Stories

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