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Another world is on her way ~ Listen!

texts: 1 Kings 19: 1-13  Matthew 20: 29-34

All through this Season of Creation I’ve been coming back to that exceedingly hopeful statement by Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible. But she is on the way. If you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.”

That this other world will be detected through our listening, that feels like a really important clue. And that it could be her breathing that we would hear … that too says even more … for to hear breath calls for a listening that is so finely tuned …and asks of us, doesn’t it, to lean in, to draw near.

Elijah’s story, at least the part where we encounter him in today‘s passage, brings us to that experience of listening into that most delicate of vibrations … the sound of silence … or as another translation puts it “a still small voice” and yet another, “the sound of a gentle breeze.”

But before we ever get there, there’s a whole other part of the story that I think speaks to us in this Season in which we attend in particular to our relationship with God’s creation.
Elijah’s on the run, scrambling, fearing for his life, because all the death he’s caused is very quickly about to catch up with him. Not so long ago he was the one in charge, confidently calling the shots … and now the tables are turned. He’s unleashed a force against himself, and now exhausted, feeling like a failure, seeing what’s coming to him, all he wants is to die. Deeply depressed he lies down and goes to sleep.  But while sleeping, gifts arrive … food and drink to strengthen him. And then along comes a messenger to waken him. “Get up and eat,” he’s told. After lying down a second time, the messenger again disturbs him … “get up and eat -- otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” The journey turns out to be to this place of encounter with God. So here’s Elijah being given the encouragement and the resources -- all that he needs -- to get to that place.

It’s upon arriving there that the question comes: “what are you doing here Elijah?” What a great question! Would that we could be asked that question now and again … “what are you doing here?”
It gives Elijah the chance to spell it out, where it’s at for him. And what do we hear but his sense of utter aloneness … everyone else has abandoned the way of God‘s covenant; I alone am left … after all I’ve done for God, I alone am left, and now, I am about to perish. You can hear him can’t you … sorry for God … sorry for himself.

As is often the way when we’re stuck in that sorry place, there’s way more going on than we’re in touch with. And so Elijah is told to come out of the cave … and stand on the mountain before God … come out to this place where the perspective is big … where you can behold the Holy.
And then there’s the powerful wind, and the earthquake and the fire, all ways that the Presence of the Holy has been experienced before … but this time God was in none of those, we’re told.
And then, there was “the sound of silence,” “a still small voice,” “the sound of a gentle breeze.” Listening, Elijah somehow perceives this to be the Presence …
and it’s from there he’s given to know what he could not see before … that he is not alone … that there are others … plenty of others! And much more to be about with his life.

“Another world is not only possible but she is on her way. If you listen very carefully, you can hear her breathe.”

My curiosity about the task of listening led me this past week to a couple of pod casts, audio recordings, in which I think I heard her breathe -- this other world that’s on her way. In sharing something of those with you this morning, I wonder if you too might hear her?

In one of the podcasts [1], Rachel Remen tells a story her grandfather told her when she was a little girl, a story that has stayed with her all her life and has informed her way of being in the world. This is her Rabbi grandfather who is steeped in Jewish mysticism and is himself a mystic.
“In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, Rachel says, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew … it’s the restoration of the world. And this of course is a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.

This is a very important story for our times, says Rachel. That story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that surrounds you. That’s where our power is.  Many people feel powerless in today’s situations. This very old story is a different way of looking at our power. And I suspect it has a key for us in our present situation, a very important key. …
I think we all feel we’re not enough to make a difference, that we need to be more somehow, either wealthier or more educated or somehow or another different than the people we are. And according to this story we are exactly what’s needed. And just to wonder about that a little … what if we were exactly what’s needed? What then? How would I live if I was exactly what’s needed to heal the world?”

“Another world is not only possible, but she is on her way. If you listen very carefully, you can hear her breathe.”

The other podcast [2] I listened to is a documentary featuring Andrew Forsthoefel, a young man, 23 years old, who set out one morning to walk across the United States, from Philadelphia to California. “I took a job right of college,” he explains, “but 3 months into it I got fired. I didn’t have much money, didn’t have a plan, so I figured I’d start walking. I’d walk out my back door near Philadelphia, down to New Orleans and if I was up for it, all the way to San Francisco.
It would be 4000 miles and I wouldn’t take rides. I didn’t know exactly why I was doing it.”

Along the way he makes this audio recording of his journey … the traffic whizzing by, the sounds of his own footsteps, the conversations he has with the people he meets. He didn’t intend to make a radio show -- he just wanted to listen to people.

One of the first people we hear is his Mum. They’re at the breakfast table the morning he’s leaving. “How do you feel Mum?” he asks. You hear her laugh … or is she crying? … perhaps both. “I’m mad at you,” she says. “I feel like I’m being blown open again … like when you were born. So something big is happening. And like it or not Andrew, it’s about breaking this hold that death has on us. You might not be thinking that, but you’re taking risks, and it’s something and … ah man -- you’re workin’ me hard.”

You can hear it in her voice… her labour of love … this time letting him go.

“I walked out my door that day,” he says, “with a 50 pound pack, a mandolin and a sign that said ‘walking to listen.’”

Every where he goes he listens to people tell him about their lives; and any advice they have for him; what they would say to their 23 year old self if they could reach back in time.
He describes his experience of hospitality along the way … how he never went hungry … how he was forever being fed, well fed … how he brought a tent with him yet how often people invited him to stay in their homes.

At one point with a banjo playing in the background you hear him say, “I loved the South--the swamps and the farmland, getting called baby and honey at the diners. It was winter, but the cold wasn’t too bad. People were taking me in all the time. It seemed like every day there was some moment of grace.
There was another side too, though. A woman in Georgia told me I shouldn’t walk through the next town because the whites had left, the help had stayed and the Southern black was a whole different animal than the Northern black.
This would happen a lot … people warning me about those others-- they’re not friendly like us; they’ll shoot you for the shirt off your back; don’t trust them. I never knew how to deal with the prejudices, especially when it came from someone who took me into their home and fed me. More often than I’d like to admit I wouldn’t say anything. And I still feel ashamed of that.
What I wish is that these people could have experienced what I did, and saw that the people they warned me about were the very same ones who took me in the next night and fed me and told me their stories … and then warned me about the people further on down the road.”

On the very last night of his journey, after many months and miles, listening all along the way, on the very last night, he was tenting in the forest.
“There were cars passing me and I had this thought,” he says. “If I were in one of those cars right now, looking into the dark forest, I’d probably think it was a scary place. But in the forest, I know it’s not a scary place. And the fears of death I was carrying, in that moment, they were gone. That night in the forest, my last night, I didn’t feel so afraid of the end.

On the afternoon of September 8, 2012, I saw the Pacific Ocean. An hour more of walking and I was on the beach -- Mom was waiting for me. And Dad was too. And so many friends, all of them surrounding me in a big circle. Even some people I’d met along the way made it. The men from Navaho country drove from the reservation and they led me to the water, drumming and singing a chant. And I was weep-walking. And they said when I went through their home they gave me a Navaho name: The Boy Who Walks. Now I have a new name: The Man Who Walks For Us. I was speechless. I was in the water.  I was floating in this dream and there were so many voices, 4000 miles of them.”

And then he concludes with this ‘postscript’ …
“It’s been 6 months since the ocean and the end, and I’m not walking anymore, or not like that. And sometimes I find myself forgetting everything the walk was to me. When I listen though, I remember. Then I forget again. When I was on the road I loved asking people what they’d say to their 23 year old self if they could go back in time.

I would tell myself 3 things: you know exactly what to do; there is no need to be afraid; keep walking.”

“Another world is not only possible, but she is on her way. If you listen very carefully, you can hear her breathe.”

There’s something there, isn’t there, of the grandfather’s story.
The scattered fragments of light being lifted up, coming together …
The healing that comes in turning toward one another, being present to each other, vulnerable with each other.

Where we might have begun to imagine that it’s technology that will save us … save the planet … there’s this healing that comes in and through our relationships with one another, taking risks that would have us meet each other.

What are you doing here?
How would you live if you were exactly what’s needed to heal the world?

“Another world is not only possible, but she is on her way.  If you listen very carefully, you can hear her breathe.”

[1] Krista Tippett’s interview with Rachel Naomi Remen, On Being, "Listening Generously," August 29, 2010

[2] Andrew Forsthoefel, Walking Across America: advice for a young man