Tomorrow I launch out in a new adventure. I get to be the “Listener” at the Leadership Institute for Group Discernment, held at Camp Tilikum outside of Newberg. For four days and nights, 27 Christians from around the country will gather to listen to each other and God, and try to come closer to an understanding of what it means to be the people of a God who walks with us and talks with us.
Early this year, the director of the Institute invited me to be the Listener for this particular gathering. This was my first encounter with that term, and I noted that the “L” was upper-case. Not listener, but Listener. The director, also my friend, Jan, described the role in her invitation: “This person immerses himself/herself in all of the conference--and then presents on Thursday morning as a summation of our time together. We expect the Listener to bring forth themes that seem to be important, to add or highlight things that the Spirit has been working in the Listener, to weave together the textures of the gathering, etc.”
After my initial delight at being invited, the doubts began rolling in. Was this really something I could do? Since this is a common pattern upon receiving an invitation—enthusiasm followed by fear—I knew that I should sit with the possibility, talk it over with Hal, pray and wait for the Spirit’s nudge. Hal pointed out that the fact that I regularly wait for the Spirit’s nudge, and usually recognize it when it comes, indicated I might be able to fulfill the role. So I accepted the invitation, partly because I want to be the kind of person who can listen like that and who can lead other people in community listening. But I suspect that I’m still at the stage of being a lower-case listener, rather than a Listener. There’s lots of room for growth.
And growth is one thing I pray for in this conference—for me and for all of us as a gathered community.
I’m very aware that listening for God’s voice in a group of human beings is not easy or automatic. I’m recognizing the context of my real life that I will be bringing with me to the conference. Currently I’m in the middle of several community discernment processes, one of which is difficult but going well, and one of which can only be described as an agonizing struggle. At the heart of both processes is the desire to discern what God is saying.
One of the riskiest aspects of this assignment is that I make a presentation to the group on the last morning of the conference, and I have a whole hour in which to do it. But I can’t prepare. My slate is blank, which is way beyond what I’m comfortable with. (Don’t criticize that last sentence, please. I strongly affirm that you can so end a sentence with a preposition! But that’s another subject.)
Actually, my slate is not blank. And I am preparing. The very life situations I bring with me are an important part of the slate. Writing this blog is preparation, as is the prayer that precedes it. And for some reason, I’m not afraid. I’m looking forward to what God will say, through us and to us. I sense the Spirit faithfully making me into a listener.
Maybe someday I’ll even be an upper-case Listener. Maybe I won’t. It’s not mine to worry about.
(Did you catch that other frisky preposition that I just ended another sentence with?)