I love walking in the woods. On any number of hikes in Colorado and New Mexico, I have found myself within hearing distance of a stream. Whether I am ascending or descending it is often parallel to the path but out of sight. I long to finally see it, as it’s a tease in a way, but eventually the trail touches or crosses the water. The reward—if it is high up enough—is the taste of that clear and cold water.
Every day is a hike and a hope for clarity. So we spend a good deal of every day listening, even subconsciously. There is a lot of noise to sift through, so some deep listening skill is needed. Once we detect the sound, we follow, even if distant and indistinct. I’m not about to say that Twitter represents deep listening, but in its own way it helps us to follow the sound, even over time. My account keeps track of who I am following and who is following me (though it’s kind of spooky to say it that way). The simple idea is that there are people who have something to say that sounds helpful. I’m not ready to call it a community, but Twitter reminds me that we gravitate to people who offer some refreshing clarity.
A community, even if its beginnings are informal and irregular, might be thought of as followers of a person or purpose. In my experience as a Brother, community is also about following one another, in this sense: we follow one another’s example and counsel, we offer friendship, we open up our lives to one another. It’s inevitable, I think, that a community that gathers to follow God, the living water, will end up needing one another.
God isn’t unlike that distant stream we’re seeking to draw closer to. There is sound, it resembles a voice, but it’s often imperceptible, whispery. Hard to hear in all of the noise. And then what we hear is counter-intuitive—as in, one finds life through death, wisdom through folly, strength through weakness. I need help finding this stream, and need to be with people who need the same help!
The spiritual genius of John Baptist de La Salle is that he founded Christian schools that acted as communities. Students were accompanied by teachers on a spiritual journey of growth. Christ was the master teacher and the subject matter was your inner self. And the students were then invited to accompany one another in this mutual journey into the soul.
We walk the same path today in our youth and family services, schools, pastoral and retreat centers, each of them educational communities where we follow God together. Each of them are in their own ways schools for interiority, schools of the spirit, where we help one another to pay attention to the imperceptible and whispery. There’s a lot of noise to sift through but right there in the middle of it is the voice worth following. I like the way Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, founder and director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, a gang-intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, puts it: it’s the voice of the One who “protects us from nothing, but sustains us in everything.”
It’s the voice of love, and well, once you hear that voice it’s pretty hard to unfollow.
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
Photo taken by Brother Tim during a walk in Ireland.