A Year of Listening
In the introduction of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies, he tells the story of the young poet trapped in the throes of depression and writer’s block. In 1912, Rilke is invited to Duino Castle, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, as a guest of the Princess Marie Von Thum und Taxis. During his stay, a mighty storm brews at the edge of the sea, and an angel of wind and rain calls Rilke from solitude to meet the storm. The tempest speaks and Rilke listens. After the encounter, he takes up his pen and feverishly lays down the first of the ten elegies, the rest of them to be composed in the years that follow, likewise by a process of deep listening and inspiration.
Each year at The New Shul our services and study center on a theme investigated over the High Holy Days, and elaborated throughout the year. Last year we studied Healing. I don’t choose our theme lightly. I hold our work together in the highest regard, and believe we are engaged in practices that have the power to heal and transform our lives, and light up the world we inhabit. Though I saw no angel, I came to our theme not by choice, but by some kind of inspiration.
The coming year will be a year of listening. Someone whose face I cannot recall said that listening feels connected to healing. I think that’s true -- maybe listening is one of the ways that we enact healing.
Why listening? What are we listening for? How to listen? I don’t want to answer any of the questions yet. I’d like you to ask them with me, and find your own questions as we engage in a few months of study in preparation for our High Holy Days. Let’s begin thinking about listening – talk to me, I am all ears.
I’m reading a lot! I’d never spent much time with Rilke, and his Duino Elegies, so far, are by far of the highest literary value. I’m looking at John Cage’s notebook called Silence. I read Michael Pollan’s new book on psychedelics, How to Change Your Mind. The Lean Startup, has me thinking about listening in the context of organizational structure and development. Mark Nepo has a title, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen that is asking many of the right questions. Next up for me are Gabor Mate’s, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, and Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby.
At the same time I’m digging into all the ancient Jewish wisdom sources on listening. Send me anything pertinent to the investigation!
We’re in store for a mighty year. I’ll say more about all the changes happening at The New Shul in my annual first letter, that will go out with membership renewals in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, all my heart is wishing you a Shabbat of peace.
Rabbi Zach Fredman