Sounds of Iona December 2022

Plenary Listening Circle

One of the many things I love about the Iona Community is our passion for the dance between work and worship, prayer and politics, contemplation and action. The ‘and’, as Richard Rohr says so often, is the most crucial word here. So often it is in the binding together of the one with the other that we come upon our deepest, truest self. 

So when we gather in the buzz of community, as Members did in early November at our annual autumn gathering, I find myself yearning for stillness and buzz – for those rare moments when the noise subsides and a deep, gathered stillness emerges. During our gathering, we met twice in what is called a ‘Listening Circle’ – all of us, sitting in concentric circles, with the inner circle of 8 chairs being the ‘talking chairs’, the others being ‘listening chairs.’ Only when in the centre do we talk. For the vast majority, the keen, powerful task is to listen. And in the listening to ask: do I understand? And if I don’t understand, what question must I find that will help me understand? 

The roundness of the circle helps. We can see one another – so our listening is focused on the incarnational presence of the other, and on the equality that emerges without a top table. It doesn’t happen often, but when stillness descends, as it does each Sunday evening in Iona Abbey in the Quiet Time Service, or in a moment of solo-stillness in St. Oran’s Chapel, the contrast with song and word breeds a sonorous depth that inspires. 

In my Quaker Meeting we meet monthly in a Listening Circle. When we gather we share a reading that inspires us (usually taken from our little booklet of Advices and Queries). We then share time in stillness – there may be silence, but what emerges is a deep stillness even when there is noise – followed by a time of focused listening to one another as we respond to what we have heard. In the depth of listening, we ask: What am I being asked to understand? What action is the Holy Spirit prompting in me, in us? What assumptions am I making about what I hear? What practices am I, are we being asked to lay down? What actions am I, are we being encouraged to take up? 

As we move through this advent time of ‘watchful waiting’; as so many reel within the catastrophic cost of living crisis, supporting one another and our neighbours far and wide to fill our cupboards, and to pay for fuel; as we welcome war weary refugees and terrified asylum seekers; as we prepare for the mass day of action onApril 21st 2023, to protest at the climate chaos that is upon us – in all of this ‘watchful waiting’ and ‘actions for justice’ may you go well and go gently.  

Dear Lord,
we pray for a round table* –
                   a united nations negotiating table
                   a number 10 oval office table;
a communion kitchen table – 

                   any such sacramental table.
A table where the corners have been replaced by curves,
and where the stuff (and word) of life is blessed and sent around
(like the salt and the spice)
where the holy spirit loops the bend to rest –
these are holy round tables:
places of reconciliation.
For reconciliation to come around,
give us grace, good Lord,
            to notice our stolid square-ness;
then so much more grace
            to embrace the complete ‘round’ in ourselves. 
Where rough edges 
            have been smoothed;
where hard opinions 
            have been softened;
we give you thanks that
is the space
for reconciling love. 


* inspired by ‘A Round Table Church’ by Chuck Lathrop in ‘Seasons with the Spirit’, Ruth Harvey (ed), CTBI publications. 

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