being useless and silent

We need quiet time in the presence of God. Although we want to make all our time time for God, we will never succeed if we do not reserve a minute, an hour, a morning, a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time, for God and God alone.

This asks for much discipline and risk taking because we always seem to have something more urgent to do and “just sitting there” and “doing nothing” often disturbs us more than it helps. But there is no way around this. Being useless and silent in the presence of our God belongs to the core of all prayer.

In the beginning we often hear our own unruly inner noises more loudly than God’s voice. This is at times very hard to tolerate. But slowly, very slowly, we discover that the silent time makes us quiet and deepens our awareness of ourselves and God.

Then, very soon, we start missing these moments when we are deprived of them, and before we are fully aware of it an inner momentum has developed that draws us more and more into silence and closer to that still point where God speaks to us.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out

preventing spiritual violence

[This weekend, with the help of a grant from Stronger Together, SSU has been hosting a symposium called “Sacred Encounters.” Indigenous and church leaders from the Maritimes gathered in St. Andrews and listened to each other. Baby steps were made along the way toward these two items from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action]:

Action 59: We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.

Action 60: We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.

You can read more about this ongoing project of SSU here.

a good question

[This is the other poem that Rachael shared with us at last week’s talk on uncertainty and questions:]

A Good Question

Never underestimate the power of a question.
Don’t dismiss it as mere herald to the all-powerful answer,
Or despise its uncertainty as feeble or unsafe.

A good question is full of life.
It bursts with the curiosity and promise of undiscovered worlds.
Its key turns the lock of never-opened doors.

So don’t let your own question spill heedlessly from your mouth.
Instead, turn it,
Like a hard toffee between tongue and teeth.
Savour, smooth and hone it.

Hold and admire it, a wild bird balanced on your faltering hand,
And when you release it to another’s charge,
Be ready for it to return to you unfamiliar,
Changed beyond recognition,
And pulling in directions you did not predict or desire.

Learn to listen,
Just listen,
And to let answers be extended questions.

Likewise, when another’s question comes to you,
Don’t push it away if an answer does not spring instantly, comfortingly, to mind;
For this question’s gift was fashioned in the ferment of someone else’s strange soul.

A question should be given space
To roam through forgotten rooms.
Perhaps at first it will seem to bounce like a discarded rubber ball,
Its lonely thud echoing against the emptiness of abandoned space,
Bareness of untrodden floorboards.

But refrain from picking it up to thrust again into a cosy pocket,
And its ricochet will knock open closets,
spill chests,
split windows,
Drawing invisible arcs to connect random points,
Until the tangle of lines
Suddenly
Reveals a picture.

This picture you may pick up
And wonderingly exhibit,
Or carefully fold to store in your heart’s chest.

But the question?
Let the question bound on…

  • Rachael Barham – Saturday 29th December 2012

encouraging and supporting the inner teacher

[The faculty of SSU have been reading (or re-reading) Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach together this year. Here is a quote mentioned in our final discussion that seems fitting for what we are trying to embody in our education at SSU.]

…Quakers had to invent social structures that would allow their members to do such work with and for each other.

The ground rules for every social structure they invented had to honor a powerful and paradoxical pair of Quaker beliefs: each of us has an inner teacher that is an arbiter of truth, and each of us needs the give-and-take of community in order to hear that inner teacher speak. So Quaker social structures offer community to help a person discover the guidance that comes from within and ground rules to prevent that community from invading the individual’s inwardness with external agendas and advice.

– Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

we listen in every way that we know how

[a third excerpt from SSU Field Notes]

Leland: What do you think this thread of discernment has meant for the University?

Lorna: Discernment has been a high value. It’s the grid by which we decide what should happen here, and how it should happen. We listen together. We might argue a lot in the process or have heated discussions or disagreements, but the bottom line is that we do the best we can to listen for how God is inviting us forward…. We’re a Christian university, and it would be easy enough to be anything just in name. But to me, being Christian means following Christ, and we can only follow Christ if we’re listening to what he says.

Leland: And what does that look like for you?

Lorna: I guess it means that when there are hard decisions to be made, it’s not one person making them. It’s the community identifying what the next steps seem to be or what the crisis area is. And we listen in every way that we know how to listen before we make a decision.

– Lorna Jones, financial officer and spiritual director at SSU, in an interview with alumnus, Leland Maerz – from SSU Field Notes

[If you’re interested in one of the few remaining “limited edition” copies of SSU Field Notes (printed by Gaspereau Press) you can order one by sending an email to Lorna Jones]

SSU Field Notes cover