We’re in Advent … how soon this time of year comes round again. Again I’ve signed up for an advent course with Church having really enjoyed the last one I did.
I haven’t been in church for a long time – Covid put a stop to that, and I really don’t like online church, but covid aside I think I’m out of the habit of going. Just saying that makes me wince. It isn’t a very nice way to describe my absence actually is it? It shouldn’t be that you go to church from force of habit, but in all honesty I think that this is the reason. Years ago when I went to church every week, I wonder was this force of habit, or that I had a desire to be there. I don’t know, but I’ll leave that there for now.
I nearly didn’t make this course. Having dropped off attending church regularly, it seems I also dropped off the list of people to invite along to these courses. I quickly messaged a friend who I knew would likely be on the course, and she confirmed that indeed there was a course which started last week. As fast as I could say “advent” an invitation had landed in my inbox with a link to this evening’s zoom meeting.
Normally I go to the meetings having read the supporting material, sometimes making notes as to the thoughts which have come up for me; I like to be prepared. Tonight I went to the session unprepared, going with the flow, seeing where the course takes me on my thoughts journey, allowing my thoughts to meander, seeing what transpires. This is me adlibbing; it’s very out of character and it feels very strange.
As I settle myself ready to join the group, I think about previous courses, things I’d learned, things I’d promised I would do … and didn’t. Oh dear, what if they ask me if I’m reading passages, and thoughts for the day. Suddenly I feel out of my depth, small, unprepared, uninformed, and I feel guilty for not doing this, and I feel guilty that I’ve not been to church for a long time either. I feel the need to confess this, but I also need to remember that I’m doing a lot, I’m doing what I can do, and that is enough; I am enough. I also know that I try to do what is right for me, and that feelings that I ought to do or should do are the destructive thoughts which so often cause me so much upset and anguish.
I usually do a blog after each session, talking about the thoughts which the course has provoked in me, from my perspective. I love how these courses send my thinking into overdrive and give me so much to process, and so much to write about. I thought my last advent series of blogs were quite good, but I’m biased. I ask Justin what he thought, if he thought them ok or a bit heavy. “To be honest I can’t remember them” he says! Well that answered that one for me. I hope those who read last year’s blogs can remember them, and that they don’t find them, or this, too heavy, and that they enjoy the read.
It was nice to see lots of familiar faces again, and some new ones too. I wasn’t asked about whether I’d stuck to my promises, or about my personal challenges and goals. At check in my guilt got the better of me and I announced myself as someone who had been kindly adopted by the church even though I didn’t go as often as I should. Probably didn’t need to say this, but I felt better being honest and open with everyone.
So the thought for this evening’s discussion was listening to the voice of God.
“Jesus said whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” Mark 4: vs9
We think about whether we have heard the voice of God, whether we’ve heard this audibly or as a feeling and a knowing. We think about how we listen, not just physically with our ears, but by staying awake spiritually.
There were so many questions I don’t even know if I have the answers, so for now, and possibly a while, I know these will sit with me as I process. Why would God want to talk to me? What would he say to me? How do we listen? At this point I’ve switched off from the course content as there’s some music playing which I’m not keen on, but then the sound goes and I can’t hear it anyway, but I begin to use this space for thought and listening to myself instead.
We talk at length. A lot of the time, I think we ask questions which we already know the answers to, or can find the answers within ourselves. Some answers may not become clear straight away, or may not be the answers we want, and of course, there are some answers (and I’m talking from a personal perspective now) that I don’t feel I will ever have answered until I meet again with Edward. Do I talk to God? Sometimes, but I have to say that more often than not I talk to Edward. As far as I’m concerned, God knows what I’m thinking, without my having to talk to him, and more often than not, if I feel the need to have a conversation with God, I have a lot of questions and a lot of anger. All I know is that I am open to listening, to myself, to others, to Edward, and to God should He want to speak with me. If I am open to listening, I hope that through my experiences every day, I live a life of love, justice and peace, a life thinking of others, my life.
We think about the stories we listen to so intently. Stories from family and friends, told with animation and detail, that we know the stories so clearly and vividly. We may not have memories of these stories, but they become a part of us, we are so interested and so connected that we are transported into that story and it becomes a part of us too, we experience every part of that story and that memory, whether or not we were there at the time. These kind of stories transport us through time and space to the lives and experiences of others. These stories could be from a year ago or hundreds of years ago, either way time and distance is no barrier for us being a part of that story.
We think about what resonates with us, a story, a sentence, a song, music. Do the words speak to us directly or remind us of something we have heard, or said, or done?
I think about how so often when I think about things, whether through this course, or through day to day, what resonates with me. Positively or negatively, when something resonates with me, it sits with me and I need to explore this. So often, as I’ve mentioned before, my experiences, words I hear, situations I’m in, remind me of music, or a song, and often music speaks to me loud and clear. But what do we do with what we hear? There needs to be a response. Maybe the response is the answer, the comfort, the journey, the listening to ourselves. Part of my listening, my reflecting, my processing is right here, in my writing.
I know I’ve spoken of this before, but again I am transported to how I feel when I’m in church. Almost every time, without fail, I will sit in a service and cry. Something speaks to me, something resonates, whether because of something I’ve done, not done, something I’m proud of, or ashamed of, something I’m grateful for, or angry about, something offering me clarity, or leaving me confused. Something which is said, or music which I hear, or just being in that place and in the presence of God, taps into my being, my thoughts and my emotions, and sitting there, real, honest, open and raw, my vulnerability is exposed as I bring my whole self, and bare my soul to God.
I think about the sheer magnitude of how powerful God is, and yet how tender He can be; how many people He is with, and yet He listens to us individually, and knows each one of us intimately.
The course is now tapping into my stuff. All we are talking about is resonating with me, and I think about my counselling course and how we practice our listening skills. In person centred counselling, we offer acceptance without judgement, we listen to all that is said and unsaid, we step into another’s shoes to see what it is like to be them, and have empathic understanding. We listen and reflect back what is being said and become a mirror for the client to hear back what they are saying. The client is in a safe space where they are open and honest and vulnerable, they are speaking and being listened to; they are being accepted, heard and understood. "Listening with real understanding ... is one of the most potent forces for change...": Carl Rogers. I've over simplified this theory massively, but in a way, this is the same thing I mentioned above. By hearing back our real, raw and honest self we allow ourselves to understand, heal and gain insight into knowing what is right and real for us. Listening is hearing, feeling, accepting, reflecting, understanding and knowing ourselves intimately.
Maybe the answers we seek are with us all along. Maybe that is the answer ... to listen to others, to listen to ourselves, to be honest and real. Maybe listening is silence, reflection, processing. Maybe the answer is “seek and you will find”.
We think about the specific needs of different people. What important message should we be using our voices to speak about today? Justice, practical help, financial help, emotional support, compassion? Are we the hands, feet and voice of God, at work, helping others … should we be?
We live in such a noisy world, such a busy world, can we even hear the voice of God, or the voice of others, or even our own voice in all the hustle and bustle of our daily lives? It is my hope that we can strive to listen, know, understand and accept others, and indeed ourselves; listening is an act of love.
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