the sound of the rooster crowing

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This is the 2nd talk given by The Rev. Alice Cabotaje Roshi at the Holy Week 2022 retreat.

Reading: Peter Denies Jesus | Luke 22: 54-62 (New Revised Standard Version)

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55 When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

Good Friday, 15 April 2022
Talk: The Sound of the Rooster Crowing – Kukukuruuuuuk!
The Rev. Alice Cabotaje

Good morning.  I hope you had a good night’s rest and that you have been doing some ear cleaning during your sound walk. I have. It has been fascinating to hear everyday sounds that I take for granted such as the footsteps of my partner; my cat’s meows that vary in pitch and length, depending on her mood; my dog’s snores and interrupted breathing when she dreams; the sound of paper when I touch it; the clicking, staccato sound of my heater when it fires up.

The beauty of this practice is, it readily grounds me in the NOW and I come to full attention. The moment I notice that I am distracted, I stop and listen to the sounds around me.

One of the requirements for ear cleaning that grandfather of acoustic ecology Murray Schafer asks is for a person to not speak for a day as they eavesdrop on sounds made by others. In his book The Soundscape, he wrote: “It is a challenging and even frightening exercise.” He noted that those who participate in the exercise have described it as a “special event in their lives.”

We are fortunate to be in this retreat where we are in silence, as we practice only listening, as we practice only hearing… In doing so we experience silence, we experience listening, we experience hearing…we open ourselves to experience the Divine in the silence, in our listening, in our hearing.

In the US, the sound of the rooster crowing is heard as cock-a-doodle-doo! In the Philippines, it is kukuruuuuk! Our ears play an important role in how we perceive and experience the world.

There are sounds that excite us, that warm us, that bring us joy, that take us back to places and people…and there are sounds that frighten us, that anger us, that sadden us.

At the moment when Peter denied that he knew Jesus for the third time, the cock crowed. In verse 61, Jesus turned and looked at him. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had predicted: “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And Peter went out and wept bitterly.

In the New Testament, Peter is portrayed as the most outspoken of the 12 disciples, eager to raise questions and objections. At the same time, he, too, was earnest in following Jesus. Stories in the Bible also show him to be impulsive – leaping into the sea, even trying to walk on water like Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33), cutting off a servant’s ear in Gethsemane (John 18:10), and following the arresting party to the high priest’s courtyard (John 18:15-18).

When he got to the courtyard and joined the men by the fire, he became afraid when the servant girl identified him as part of Jesus’s crew; he became afraid when he was asked if he knew Jesus.

He became afraid because it could mean death for him if he said that he was a disciple of Jesus. Peter wasn’t ready to go all the way with Jesus, with the accompanying pain, agony, discomfort, struggles, losses, rejection, humiliation, and threat to his life.

Some interpret Peter’s denial as a failure, as a flaw in his character. I see fear as a normal reaction especially when one is not ready to respond to what is being asked for.  Peter was not ready at that time.

How often have we found ourselves willing, able, and earnest to follow Jesus, to seek intimacy with God, to realize our true nature and when we get to that point when it means death of our ego; when it entails surrendering completely and in vulnerability to the unknown… we hesitate…we change our minds…we become afraid.

When we realize that this practice demands everything of us, including our concept and understanding of God… when we realize that this practice demands all of us…demands that give up what is safe and comfortable…that we let go of all we deem precious, we back off.

I was initiated into the practice of sitting meditation in the Yogic tradition at 21 years old. My guru was Shrii Shrii Ananda Murtijii. The practice entailed four hours of daily sitting; being a strict vegetarian; fasting for at least 24 hours with no food and water twice a month; sleeping on a mat; serving the sangha; and living a relatively ascetic life.

I was able to do those but not when it came to completely surrendering myself to that dark abyss that would loom when I sat it meditation. I felt that I would die if I let go and leap into that void. I resisted for 20 years.

I finally relented after a nine-month very dark night of the soul when I was 40; I finally let go, and surrendered to that dark, long tunnel before me. It was only in abandoning myself to the unknown, in my willingness to lose everything, in my willingness to literally die when the unexpected awakening experience happened.

And surrendering, dying, leaping into the void is not a one-time thing. The path of intimacy with God, of awakening requires an ongoing practice of letting go, of letting go, of letting go… of dropping expectations…of releasing our grip of control…of hurtling into the unknown… of simply trusting especially when in pain and in fear…of emptying, emptying, emptying… of giving ourselves over and completely to what is moment by moment…of learning over and over again to truly love with commitment and unconditionally.

It is tough. It takes time. That’s why we call this practice…to be willing to keep beginning, to keep trying… to keep going. And to allow for ripening.

As we practice listening, we come to experience that truly listening is dangerous. It might cause us to hear something we don’t like, to feel something we never felt before, and perhaps never wanted to feel. This might lead to something within us that never happened before.

There is risk in listening, and that is why we may not want to truly listen; not to want to truly hear the cries of our hearts; the cries of our family members, our friends, our neighbors, the babies, children, mothers, fathers, the old, the sick, the hungry in our country, in Ukraine, in Russia, in Poland, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America; the cries of burning forests, withering plants, dying corals, disoriented whales and fish; all the cries of the earth.

As he languished on the cross, even Jesus himself cried out to God and said: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

In his agony, Jesus felt alone and separated from everyone. He was exhausted and drained from the mental and emotional burden and strain. All those people He had loved, healed, and taught spewed anger and hate at him and demanded His crucifixion. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied him. His own disciples had left Him.

It was excruciating. Jesus was also physically battered. He carried a heavy cross through Jerusalem’s streets after having taken lashes that tore His back. Blood spilled from his body. He was thirsty…and He was dying.

Many of us can relate to Jesus as we and the world have gone through harrowing experiences owing to the pandemic – a sense of isolation and separation; broken relationships; illness; death; — and the anxiety and fear that many face with the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the threat of a nuclear war.

When Jesus called out to God. What was God’s response? Silence. How terrible could that be? There was no escape. Death was it for Jesus.

I can imagine that after Peter heard the rooster crow, he drew back in silence, in humility to reflect on what it means to follow Jesus, to live like Jesus, to be intimate with Jesus…to keep responding to the invitation…to the call.

Despite his humiliating experience, Peter continued to respond to Jesus’s call. Eventually, doing so showed a change of heart…a change of life…and a martyrdom in service of God’s plan for the church.

Once again, this path we take is far from easy. It is slow and arduous.

Desert Mother Amma Syncletica cautioned that as one advances on the spiritual path, the challenges are greater than ever. She likened the ascetic to an athlete.

She said: “For the more athletes make progress, the more they are matched with stronger opponents.”

Yet, she noted that as one becomes more adept with one’s practices of austerity, prayer and detachment, one all the more has to guard against pride, which to her is the “greatest evil.”

Yet despite all the struggles, there is hope and joy on the path. Amma Syncletica said:

“For those who are making their way to God there is at first great struggle and effort, but then indescribable joy. For just as those who wish to kindle a fire are at first choked with smoke, suffer watery eyes, and in this way achieve their purpose (indeed Scripture says: ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ [Hebrews 12:24]), so we too must kindle the divine fire within us with tears and effort.”

In the same way with Peter, he experienced the grace and unconditional love of Jesus. When the risen Jesus appeared on the shore and told Peter and the disciples where to cast their nets, Peter right away jumped into the sea to go ashore to greet Jesus.

It was at the shore when Jesus asked Peter if he loves him more than the fish they had hauled in. Each time, Peter answered: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” and three times, Jesus told him to feed his lambs and take care of his sheep.

In this exchange in John 21:15-17, the writer used two different Greek works for love. The first two times that Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” He used the Greek verb agapao, which means to love unconditionally and sacrificially. It is the kind of love where one decides and wills to love. It is not based on physical attraction, emotional attachment, or sentimentality.

Peter replied using the Greek verb phileo, which is to have affection for a person. It is devotion based on feeling and emotional attachment. By the third time, when Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me? Jesus used phileo and Peter, once again replied with phileo.

From this dialogue, I believe we are invited to practice both kinds of love in our relationship to Jesus, to God, to our loved ones, and to those we are called to serve.

In this encounter, Jesus reinstated Peter. In this encounter, Jesus invited Peter to be absorbed and held in God’s love.

I would like to end this talk with a story from Belden Lane’s The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality.

“Once upon a time in a far and distant place, on a high mountain, a gentle rain began to fall. At first it was hushed and quiet, trickling down the granite slopes. But gradually it increased in strength, as rivulets ran over the rocks and down the gnarled and twisted trees that grew there. Soon it was pouring as swift currents of dark water flowed together into the beginnings of a stream.

The stream flowed on down the mountainside, through valleys, past forests, down cascading falls. Until at last it found itself far from its source in the distant mountain, at the edge of a great and vast desert.  Having crossed every other barrier in its way, the stream fully expected to cross this as well. But as fast as its waves splashed into the desert, that fast did they disappear into the sands.

Before long, the stream heard a voice whispering from the desert itself saying, “The wind crosses the desert, so can the stream.”

“Yes, but the wind can fly!” cried out the stream, as it kept dashing itself into the desert sand.

“You’ll never get across that way,” the desert whispered once again. “You’ll have to let the wind carry you.”

“But how?” cried out the stream.

“You have to let the wind absorb you.”

Well, the stream wasn’t able to accept that. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It didn’t want to lose its individuality, abandon its own identity. And besides, if once it gave itself to the winds, could it ever be sure of becoming a stream again?

The desert replied that the stream could continue to flow into the sand, and that one day it might even produce a swamp there on the desert’s edge. But it would never cross the desert so long as it remained a stream.

“Why can’t I remain the same stream that I am?” cried out the water.

And the desert answered, ever so wisely, “You never can remain what you are. Either you become a swamp or you give yourself to the winds.”

The stream was silent for a long time, listening to certain echoes deep within itself, remembering parts of itself having been held in the arms of the wind before. And then slowly, the stream raised its vapors into the welcoming arms of the wind and was borne upward and over the desert in great white clouds.

As it passed beyond the mountains on the desert’s far side, there it began to fall as a gentle rain. At first it was hushed and quiet, trickling down the granite slopes. But gradually it increased in strength, as rivulets ran over the rocks and down the gnarled and twisted trees that grew there. And soon it was pouring, as swift currents of dark water flowed once again into the beginning of a stream.”

As we go through the day, let our whole being be only listening…let our whole being be only hearing. Only listening. Only Hearing. ONLY SOUND.