Jim Cogley: Reflections Tues 5 Sept – Mon 11 Sept 2023

Recordings of most Pilgrimage talks and events are  available under Church Services Our Lady’s Island. The one given on Sunday 3rd Sept at 3pm by Tessa Gallagher I particularly recommend for anyone trying to come to terms with loss. 

Tue 5th Sept -Listening – A Prophet’s Initiation

A lovely story from the Old Testament Book of Samuel relates to how the Prophet Samuel first experienced his call to be a prophet and a listener. A group, when asked what a prophet was, were of the opinion that it was someone who could foretell the future. There may be an element of truth in that, but fundamentally, a prophet is someone who listens to God and then is able to speak God’s truth into the situation of the time. Saul was the first prophet in Israel and Samuel was the second. His mother Hannah was unable to have children and the Lord granted her prayer of anguish. When her son was born she was so grateful that she dedicated him to the Lord. This meant that the boy spent much of his young life in the Temple and that is where he had his first lesson in listening. The times then seemed to be similar to our own. People thought miracles were a thing of the past, and it was rare for the Lord to speak in those days; while the lamp of faith had grown dim it had not entirely gone out.

Wed 6th Sept – Hearing without Listening

Twice the Lord called Samuel by his name and each time he thought it was the old priest Eli who was calling. The third time Eli realised that the Lord was calling this young man and he advised him to say, ‘Speak Lord your servant is listening’. From there on we are told that the Lord was with Samuel and he let no word of his fall to the ground. The story is really about the prophet learning to listen and this is where most of us have a lot to learn. Experience teaches us that in general people hear but don’t listen. Take a group situation where visitors get off a bus and are told to be back for 3.45pm. The number who will ask, “What time did you say?” is amazing, and some will saunter back at four convinced that 4pm was what you said. Similarly in a restaurant, so often you specifically ask for a glass of one thing only to be landed a pint. It’s clearly a case of ‘selective’ hearing.

Thurs 7th Sept – Listening and Birthing

The piece of sculpture shown is a very obvious symbol of listening. It’s an ear, but the inside looks like a baby in the womb, and this is to symbolise the truth, that when we listen something new is born. How does this happen? It would appear that we all have a deep need to be heard outside before we can listen to what is happening inside. As we verbalise our inner subjective reality we gain objectivity and see more clearly from within the path we need to take. Most of us are born with two good ears but it would be a presumption that being able to hear automatically makes us good listeners. So many only listen with the intention of speaking but not of hearing. People who are troubled or bereaved often say that they find it very difficult to find anyone who can truly listen to their story without interrupting or switching off. How often have we begun to unburden ourselves to another only moments later to hear, “Well now isn’t that very interesting, allow me to tell you what happened to me.” This leaves us feeling dismissed, because what I am saying is obviously not all that ‘interesting’.

Fri 8th September – Prayer and Listening

Some years ago, I remember a man telling a horrendous story of his daughter being killed and just a few seats away was a woman who was leafing through a booklet as he spoke. How many times have we seen similar incidents where a group are gathered and while one person is speaking about something important another is trying to interrupt and another seems more interested in making tea. It used to be quite common in Church years ago to be reading the Word of God and out of the corner of the eye to see someone holding their beads and saying the rosary; surely not listening to the Word of God! That’s a classic case of, not ‘Speak Lord your servant is listening,’ but, ‘Listen Lord your servant is speaking.’ These are things we do without thinking and a little thought would not go amiss. While it is not my intention to offend anyone it is my hope to heighten awareness to the fact that we all can become better listeners both to the Lord and to one another.

Sat 9th September – Listening in Order to Speak

It’s feels disrespectful to be trying to pour out your heart to someone and a minute later to realise that you are now listening to their story. We all know what that’s like. “Well now isn’t that interesting, let me tell you what happened to me…” Either that, or they are trying to give you good advice in order to fix you, while the reality is that good advice is bad news for someone who needs a listening ear. When we really listen, without interrupting, or making judgements, we help someone sort themselves out. Once we are heard without, we can begin to hear what is happening within. Here the discipline of holding silence is important and it seems significant that both words listen and silent have the same letters. This is why when we listen something new is born, symbolised by the child in the ear shown in the earlier photo.

Sun 10th September – Being Wronged 23

If your brother or sister has wronged you, what do we do? The Bible says, ‘Go to them and sort it out’. Who among us has never been hurt or felt wronged? The Gospel of today offers some very practical advice. It happened to me not so long ago. I felt deeply hurt by a decision someone made that affected me that I should have been asked about. It shocked me to the core and felt like blatant insensitivity. I went to bed that night and thought, this could keep me awake mulling over it for nights on end. So, I first asked the question; from what I knew of this woman was she by nature vindictive and the answer was no. In the past had she always acted from good intent. So, I came to the conclusion that in spite of how offended I felt, I might just be wrong and losing sleep over nothing. So, I turned over went to sleep having said ‘to heck with this matter until I have all the facts.’

As always in such matters it would have been all too easy to make an assumption. And as you know assumptions can be dangerous whereby I make an ass out of you and me. Ass-u-me. Next day I went and said I had been upset by what I heard and said that I hoped I had no reason to be. As the story unfolded there was not an ounce of offence in what had happened. It was simply a case of me not knowing all the facts. Had I not gone I could have been still fuming till this time next year and feeling offended where no offence was even meant. So, it is in life there that there is far more offence taken than given.

To leave hurts like that untended is a fertile ground for bitterness to take root that can eventually poison not just a family but spread contagion into an entire community.

I hold here a book and if I ask the question, ‘What weight is it?’ I would get as many guesses as there are people in this church and in a way we would all be wrong. Because it’s not its actual weight that matters but how long I am carrying it. The longer I carry it the heavier it becomes. So, the Bible teaches, you must not bear hatred for someone in your heart. You must tell that person of their offence and in that way you will not take a sin upon yourself. It also says you must not exact vengeance nor must you bear a grudge.

There’s a very basic piece of wisdom that evades so many of us and it’s this; that any negativity or resentment that I carry towards someone else is not helpful for myself, neither for my spiritual, emotional or physical well-being so why carry it? If I have a sour face on me towards anyone it’s always my face that’s no longer smiling. To hold ill will towards someone is to give that person rent free space in my head and forgiveness is always the eviction order. Forgiveness is something we all believe in until we are hurt but there is no other way. The mistake we make is to think that we forgive for the sake of the other, who may be quite undeserving, while the truth is that we forgive in order to let go of our burdens and set ourselves free. The meaning of forgiveness is to let go of something that is unhelpful for ourselves.

Recently, a lady told me a story that was really very sad. She was born on the day her older brother was drowned in a hole dug for a sceptic tank and left uncovered by a neighbour. When the child was born the mother said, “Take her away, I don’t want to see her”. Her father returned from the UK and blamed his wife for not looking after the child, and that day their relationship ended. Her dead brother was never spoken about and the first inkling she got of the tragedy was while watching a funeral go past of a child of three who had been killed by a bus. Her mother remarked, “That mother will have a hole in her heart for the rest of her life that will never heal.” It was from there that the story began to unravel. Later, her mother would do anything for her, perhaps out of guilt, but could never be affectionate. In her last few weeks in a nursing home, she ended up beside the widow of the man who had dug the sceptic tank and left it uncovered. One day she saw her mother to be different and she knew that she had finally forgiven what had happened and a few days later died apparently very much at peace.

Mon 11th Sept – Listening Pointers

Someone pointed out an interesting fact recently that while we hear with our ears we listen with our eyes and our hearts. We know someone is listening when their eyes stay with us whereas when they switch off the eyes wander. To truly listen is a wonderful form of healing, and to summarise a few points:

When someone is talking or telling their story the first rule is silence. Don’t feel you need to have an answer running in your head, or to interrupt with your experience.

Second, don’t try to fix them by offering advice. There will be time for discussion after they are finished. Good advice is bad news for someone who just has a need to be heard.

Third, hold eye contact and listen with your heart. When someone is hurting, only when they feel heard, do they begin to mend.

Finally, being a good listener is a great gift to someone in trouble, but for most of us it doesn’t come naturally, and it usually has to be practiced.

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