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The holy work of deep listening

Posted by Rev. Sarah Carver on

One of the spiritual practices I have taken up over the last year has been to listen to the voices of people of color, particularly the voices of African Americans. I’ve been reading books by black authors, such as Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, and others. I attended Racial Equity Institute (REI) training in January and learned about the history of systemic racism in the United States, about the economic and political policies that made education and wealth so much more accessible to white people than to people of color. While there, I heard stories from my co-trainees, men and women of color who’s experience of being in the world is so very different from mine. For example, as a white person, I can choose when and how I think and talk about race. For people of color, there is no choice—race is an issue they face every day. In my family growing up, we have never really talked about it even when I learned that my late grandfather and great-uncle, both of whom were born in Argentina, had effectively changed their very Hispanic sounding names, Carlos and Oreste, to Chuck and Rusty. I think there’s definitely a conversation to be had there…

In this current time of unrest, I’m listening and that’s not always easy. My initial reactions in any conflict are to justify myself, argue with whomever I’m having a conflict, and even blame the other person because God-forbid I be wrong or responsible in any way—especially when I am! But it’s when I listen with intentionality, humility and openness that I learn as much about myself as I do about the one to whom I am listening. Its not easy, but it frees me to let go of where I’m coming up short and grow into someone better.

Now is the time for some of us to really listen to those who are expressing their grief and anger at a system that works for some, but not everyone. A number of us gathered online recently to share stories, feelings, and concern about what is happening in our society right now, and about how we can begin being agents of change. And for many, the starting place was in listening—deep listening. This is the kind of listening that seeks understand and not just facts, the kind of listening that honors loss and walks in step with grief. This is the kind of listening that allows us to broaden our understanding of how the world works for all and not just ourselves. And to get a clearer sense of who we are in it. This is the kind of listening that comes from humility—that spiritual understanding of self that can save us. Eventually, this listening will lead to action, which will lead to new connections, new understanding, new life for everyone.

On the day I’m writing this it is June 12th. It is the feast day of Enmegahbowh, a Native American man who is considered the first Native American priest in the Episcopal Church. He was a missioner and peacemaker, and his name means “The One who Stands Before his People.” The collect that honors this day reads like this: “Almighty God, you lead your pilgrim people of old with fire and cloud: Grant that the ministers of your Church…may stand before your holy people, leading them with fiery zeal and gentle humility.” It is my prayer that the ministers of the Church, all the baptized, will spend time doing that holy work of deep listening, and then indeed come to that place where we can stand with zeal and humility and meet the needs of one another in Christ and be saved.