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Stanwick Group of Churches

June 2019 Letter

In May the RSPB’s charity single, ‘Let Nature Sing’ made it to number 18 in the charts. Featuring various threatened and endangered birds, it was released to help raise awareness of the huge challenges facing the bird population, and nature more widely. The sixty seven species of bird currently on the ‘red list’ of globally threatened species in severe decline include birds which have inspired some of our most beautiful music -  turtle doves, cuckoos, skylarks and nightingales.  ‘Let Nature Sing’ reminds us to listen to the birdsong all around us and to nature’s urgent cry to take action now to protect our birds and environment.

Greek philosopher, Epictetus, is often credited with the saying ‘we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’ Listening carefully is so important in so many aspects of life, so many fields of work, and in all of our relationships. Truly listening to another person means taking time to be with them, to be physically present in their struggle, in their pain. Listening is an act of trust requiring discipline, effort and intentionality.

Honest listening contrasts with what social theorists call a hermeneutics of suspicion, where the real meaning of something is seen as hidden or as intentionally other than what is actually said. From personal relationships through to international relations the suspicion that someone doesn’t really mean what they say undermines the possibility of acting together and building a life together.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled ‘Life Together’. It was written as a reflection back on the experiences of running a seminary in Finkenwalde, but it was also written in uncertain times, in the midst of the Sudentenland crisis of 1938. He wrote the book over four weeks, whilst staying in the empty house of Gerhard Leibholz, a professor of law at Gottingen University who had been dismissed from his post because of his Jewish roots. Bonhoeffer had helped the Leibholz family escape to Switzerland. It is striking how in this time of crisis and rapid change, Bonhoeffer was able to sit and calmly write a book about being a faithful community, taking the time to listen.

For Bonhoeffer, listening is the first act of service, the first form that loving our neighbour takes: ‘We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.’ We receive others not as threat, but as gift, as we listen to them seriously and in doing so we participate in God’s hearing of the world. This he contrasts with impatient, inattentive listening, and a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say.

As Christians we are called by God to listen to our neighbours, and also ‘to be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46 vs 12). We are called to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking within our hearts.

On June 9th we celebrate Pentecost, which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The spirit came as wind and tongues of fire, and then the disciples suddenly found that they could speak in tongues, as they addressed the cosmopolitan crowd gathered in Jerusalem, each in their own language.

The Pentecost narrative reverses the story of the Tower of Babel (babble) in the primevil narrative of Genesis 11. According to the ancient story there was a time when all nations spoke with one language. When the people decided to build a tower to heaven, God sowed dissension by inventing new languages that hampered their building efforts. Now at Pentecost, at the birth of the church, this is reversed as all languages are recognised and spoken. 

One message of Pentecost for each of us and for our churches is to listen – to other people, other cultures and traditions, both locally and across the other side of the world. There are many tongues of fire. God is radically available in every context, in every language.

God bless you in your listening,

 

Camilla


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