Friday, April 29, 2022

Are we listening?

 A small group from the local Unitarian Church is planning to do a training day for Lay Pastoral Care Associates.  The main focus for this particular gathering will be on listening, attentive, focused, compassionate listening.  In the weeks leading up to the training day, I have become increasingly aware of both the power of and the absence of deep listening in my daily interactions; of how discounted I can feel when I am speaking and the listener’s attention drifts to whoever or whatever else may pull their attention away; of how grateful I feel when I know I have been heard and understood.

I am reminded of a powerful excerpt from Nelle Morton’s book, THE JOURNEY IS HOME that I read many years ago at the beginning of my theological studies in seminary.  She wrote this:

It was in a small group of women who had come together to tell our own stories that I first received a totally new understanding of hearing and speaking.  I remember how one woman started, hesitating, awkward, trying to put the pieces of her life together. Finally she said: “I hurt…I hurt all over.”  She touched herself in various places as if feeling for the hurt before she added, “but I don’t know where to begin to cry.”  She talked on and on. Her story took on fantastic coherence.  When she reached a point of most excruciating pain no one moved.  No one interrupted.  Finally she finished.  After a silence, she looked from one woman to another. “You heard me.  You heard me all the way.”  Her eyes narrowed.  She looked directly at each woman and then said slowly: “I have a strange feeling you heard me before I started. You heard me to my own story.”

So I have been reflecting on the power of listening and hearing in the midst of a culture that is a virtual cacophony of sound that so readily distracts and drowns out the human cry.  I wonder what the power brokers in government and on Wall Street hear?  What do they listen to?  Do they hear the cry of the prophet Isaiah’s widows and orphans?  Do they hear the weeping of the enslaved and oppressed? Do they hear the moaning of families whose children have been lost to gun violence?  I wonder what I have drowned out that I need to be hearing more acutely - - where has my sense of the importance of my own presence in relationship gone missing?  Where have I missed the opportunity to “hear another human soul into speech.”

Morton reminds us that when we listen actively and deeply “we voluntarily join another human being at a particular point on their life journey for a brief space in time and that it “…is not so much a journey ahead, or a journey into space, but a journey into presence.”

Honoring the high value of the presence we bring to any human interaction is a spiritual practice.
We can actually create a space wherein a person can find their own voice, perhaps even “listen” another person into connecting with their own inner wisdom for their own life.
    This is a powerful gift both given and received.  Most of us have not had many experiences of being listened to and heard in such a way that our own wisdom becomes activated and we begin to “see” a direction or action we need to take - - begin to feel reassured in the midst of a challenging situation that we do, indeed, have the wisdom to move on through.  At one time or another, we all need to be “listened to or heard into speech.”

It is difficult to leave behind my ruminations on listening.  The last thing I read before drifting off to sleep last night was Nelle’s thoughts on:   “Learning to listen with one's whole body. Learning to hear with the eye and see with the ear and speak with the hearing. Knowing the Spirit in movement and not in stasis.”

It sounded to me as though there might be the promise of an encounter with Divinity in the process of full and deep listening to another human being.  Hmmmmmm.

Vicky Hanjian

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