AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Laura Boggs
In George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin, the great-great-grandmother of Princess Irene gives her a ring, tied to a thin but strong thread. The young princess is told that when she’s scared or in trouble, she need only put the ring under her pillow and follow the thread.
“Then you must lay your finger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you.”
“Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, Grandmother, I know!”
“Yes. But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”
The jazz club owner steps up to the microphone to wish us good evening. But her customers, absorbed in cocktails and conversation, are not listening. So she stands there, silent, and stares at us. She does not clap her hands or clear her throat. She just… waits. She’s dressed in sparkles, but her demeanor is dead serious, teacher-like. Within seconds, we shut up.
Now we are listening. I swear you could hear an ice cube shift in its glass.
“There you are.” Her voice is deep, slow, as she welcomes us to the narrow space with rugs upon rugs on the floor. “This,” she says, “is a true listening room.”
Suddenly, forty of us have become one.
We stay that way, one, as three—pianist, guitarist, bassist—take to the tiny stage. Luke and I are sitting in the very front. As the trio plays, we listen with our ears, our eyes, our whole bodies. I feel the bodies behind us, also leaning in.
Last year, I wrote about how a Parish gathering feels like a true listening room.
This past Sunday, Eric Seidel reminded us God is always speaking to us. Eric chronicled the many ways we can experience God—thinking ways and doing ways, together ways and alone ways, feeling ways and being ways.
Little listening rooms everywhere.
In these, we do our spiritual sorting, glimpsing where God is active in our days and nights. Here, we tap into thou my best thought.
But sometimes, we close our ears. I should speak for myself: I close my ears. I am too (fill in the blank—distracted, drained, busy talking) to hear. More often than not, I’m a lousy listener. I need someone, teacher-like (thank you, Eric!), to remind me to…
Sit with a centering prayer.
Open a book of poetry.
Walk in the woods.
Have you ever sat over coffee with a friend and become lost in their story? You sit on the edge of your chair. You forfeit your next move. You forsake Oh, I know what you mean! and That once happened to me…
You forget that your cappuccino is getting cold.
This, I believe, is a form of prayer.
We are, as Father Gregory Boyle would say, “returning each other to ourselves.” Just as God returns us to ourselves. (“The deepest me is God!” St. Catherine of Genoa shouted in the streets.)
We love God—and one another—with acts of listening. This is the place where what Boyle calls “exquisite mutuality” is born, where the “connective tissue of love” binds us together, with each other and with Abba, Jesus, Spirit.
There’s a thin but strong thread, a throughline, when we are keen to hear. God is talking—and (what generosity!) listening.
Let us count the ways.
Eric shared with us a map, of sorts, that divided and subdivided the ways.
Here’s what was not part of that graphic (a sermon for another day): the ways we get in the way. I could draw you that map, my friends. I am the cartographer of circuitous routes. And I know a thing or two about dropping the thread. But Jesus is patient as I grow into getting out of the way. He does not clap his hands or clear his throat. He stays in the room as I learn to listen. To set aside my agenda. To abandon the scavenger hunt for silver linings. To untie the bows of There’s a reason and, worse, Here’s what I think it is.
Though I wander off-map, Jesus doesn’t head for the door.
May more of this life bring quiet rooms with rugs piled high to absorb the noise. May more hours be tell-me-your-story hours over coffee with a friend.
My Friend, all ears, is kind to wait for me. Finally, he smiles and says, There you are.
The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than world on world, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. – Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter