Tag Archives: Listening

“Listening” by Steve Dalton

Preface:

Of late, I’ve had precious little time to write, but I have been doing a lot of thinking… often with pain in my heart over the divisions in our broken world.

I’m re-posting this essay (below) for two reasons: 1.) because it’s important to me, and I feel that it speaks to the pain I’ve been experiencing of late; and, 2.) Although more that 260 people subscribe to this blog, only 29 – according to the WordPress stats – have actually read it.

I hope you’ll take the time. And, I hope this blesses you in some small way.

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Like you, I have a lens through which I view and interpret the world. It is a lens forged by the entirety of my life — my religious formation, for sure, but also my upbringing, my relationships, my education, my opportunities, my inclinations, my struggles and losses, and my many mistakes. I make no claim that mine is a perfect lens. In fact, when I go to prayer each morning, I do so with the stark awareness of my need to see more clearly.

My vocation, at least in part, is to consent to the gradual sharpening of my vision by God’s own hand, which will happen as I do a disciple’s work, namely, as I listen with an open heart to the countless words of God spoken – sometimes as a whisper – into my life each day.

On a continuum, be it religious or political, my lens (or worldview) falls somewhere between far left and far right. From my vantage point, when I look in either direction, I see friends whom I love and value, who are themselves words of God infused with profound meaning and deserving of my utmost consideration.

If I speak from my worldview, my place along the continuum, and express a perspective at odds with yours, I hope you will be patient with me. And, I hope you will recognize that I have arrived at my position after careful soul-searching… and often with an anguish born of love.

Most individuals, I believe, follow a similarly thoughtful path of discernment on important issues. In our politically-volatile culture, however, even good, sensitive people seem prone to lose sight of this.

The world may indeed have its share of small-minded people, spouting bigotries and reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the issues of the day. Nonetheless, to presume such a disposition in another, especially on the sole basis of a conflicting worldview, seems a grave offense against that person’s dignity. Further, presuming such a disposition of an entire group or community of people (e.g., “traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholics; or, members of the “Tea Party” or the “Occupy Movement”) represents, in my opinion, a genuine flirtation with evil.

We are quick these days to demonize. It is so much easier, after all, to brand and dismiss someone than it is to listen thoughtfully to the circumstances that have shaped that person’s perspective. Such is the carelessness of our age; and, we collectively suffer as a result. The chasms between us are sometimes shockingly wide and deep. But love and respect are a marvelous bridge and a reason for hope.

I am pro-life. I say that with no intent to confront or accuse, though some may hear it as such. I say it though painfully aware of the exploitative, abusive, and terribly irresponsible behavior so often manifest in those of my gender. I say it with shame for the ways in which such behavior has been manifest in me. I am truly sorry! And, I am pro-life!

Perhaps it will help if I explain that I see all life as proceeding from the mind of a loving God. When I see you, regardless of your worldview, I see one who has been intended for all eternity, who has been “spoken” into existence purposefully, and who has a worth well beyond my comprehension. God does not waste words!

For us, however, language is often a big problem. Civil discourse has all but evaporated because of, what I call, a “contraceptive mentality” (i.e., an automatic tendency to close our minds and dig in our heels the moment certain buzz words or phrases are uttered, such as “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” etc.). Such barriers – or shields, to borrow an image from Star Trek – prevent the life-generating sharing of our human stories and prohibit discovery of what we hold in common, including our shared beliefs and frailties.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)

Do we believe this in practice? What if, for example, one of two is a so-called “American Catholic” and the other an unapologetic “Papist?” Before considering the possible tenor of their conversation, perhaps we should wonder if they ever would “gather” in the first place… in the name of the Lord they both profess.

It seems nearly irresistible to mock the “left-wing loon” or the “right-wing bigot,” as though the entirety of that person’s life, the complex circumstances that have forged her/his worldview, has no validity. How can we miss this injustice in ourselves?

It hurts terribly to be branded! And, make no mistake; we are diminished profoundly by branding others!

So, we remain a polarized people, living in fear and anger, suspicious of each other, and yet craving to be understood and accepted.

We are wary of the absolutists, who seem to be all around us (sometimes, I’ve discovered, even hiding in my mirror); still, we thirst for the Absolute!

There is a creed that I profess. In faith, I embrace the elements of that creed as “objectively true” in the fullest sense of that phrase. My understanding of these truths, however, remains a work-in-progress, especially regarding their practical and pastoral application. I am reminded here of the traditional definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As a person of faith, my life’s work is to strive for a deeper understanding of all of God’s wonderful words — the ones printed on pages in holy books that I treasure… and, the ones who will pass by me, some on my left and some on my right, as I live this day.

The gift that is this day!

Noise?

In his wonderful book, New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton says the following:

“… every expression of the will of God is in some sense a ‘word’ of God and therefore a ‘seed’ of new life. The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we live should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God.”

One recent morning, I opted to pray on my back porch, where I was bombarded with the sounds of a busy summer day. Applying Merton’s insight, I chose to hear those sounds not as a distraction but as ‘words’ of God that became an integral part of my prayer. And so, I came to understand that sometimes the voice of God sounds like…

The chirping of birds, the barking of a neighbor’s dog, a rush of wind, the distant laughter of children at play, the “noise” testifying to human ingenuity…

The footfalls of a loved one approaching, the words “I understand” spoken compassionately by a friend…

The yawn of a stranger on the train, music, a whispered “I love you”…

A trickle of water, the buzz of an insect, a cry for justice…

A sigh of relief, pages turning in a treasured photo album, silence…

Your neighbor puttering in his yard in the cool of the day, the far-away slamming of a screen door, a mother calling her children home for lunch, the whistle of a tea kettle…

And…?

What a consolation to know that God will not be silent today!

God’s Good Idea!

Although I have appreciated some humorous ones over the years, I’m generally not a fan of bumper stickers. That especially can be the case when a bumper sticker purports to represent a movement (e.g., “pro-choice” or “pro-life”), even a movement I consider noble and support.

Many bumper stickers, in my opinion, are a manifestation of the communication problem that impairs our polarized world today. We seem so entrenched in our respective social/political/religious positions that we frequently limit our discussion on important issues to the repetition of representative sound bites, which are a dreadfully deficient means of communicating.

Bumper stickers are often nothing more than sticky sound bites.

When I’m in a parking lot and the car parked in front of mine has a bumper sticker expressing an opinion at odds with something I hold dear, I never see that bumper sticker as an invitation to communicate about the issue; rather, I experience it as a barrier, a clear territorial claim.

I identify as “pro-life,” but I do so with anguish because of the division such labels risk causing. I do not have a “pro-life” bumper sticker on my car precisely because I don’t wish to close doors of communication.

I believe that listening with an open heart is genuinely holy.

If given the chance, I would explain that my “pro-life” position has everything to do with what I believe about you. Will you listen? If so, please read on.

I accept on faith that God is unchanging and has perfect foreknowledge. Therefore, I believe that you, blog reader, have been in the mind, heart, and plan of God for all eternity.

At the moment of your conception, God “spoke” you into existence. Thus, you are a “word of God” expressed purposefully as a unique blessing for the world. You embody the good and deliberate intention of the Creator. Your life is itself a message of hope to the world.

You have a dignity and worth that are greater – infinitely greater – than any movement, any cause.

Though you may feel invisible at times, God has always known your name, your face, your strengths and struggles, your favorite color, your most cherished moments, the things that move your heart, and the things that make you cry. God sees your loneliness and insecurities. God knows your vulnerabilities. God hears your voice raised in prayer. God sees your fist raised in anger and frustration… and understands.

You have always been, and will always be, God’s beloved. You are never completely alone.

You are neither an accident nor a mistake! In fact, you are God’s good and eternal idea.

Since you embody the holy and deliberate intention of the Creator, you are forever deserving of my love, my compassion, my respect, my understanding, my patience, and my protection… even when we disagree.

What I believe about you, I also believe about every child in the womb.

When that can fit on a bumper sticker, I’ll proudly display it.

“Listening”

Like you, I have a lens through which I view and interpret the world. It is a lens forged by the entirety of my life — my religious formation, for sure, but also my upbringing, my relationships, my education, my opportunities, my inclinations, my struggles and losses, and my many mistakes. I make no claim that mine is a perfect lens. In fact, when I go to prayer each morning, I do so with the stark awareness of my need to see more clearly.

My vocation, at least in part, is to consent to the gradual sharpening of my vision by God’s own hand, which will happen as I do a disciple’s work, namely, as I listen with an open heart to the countless words of God spoken – sometimes as a whisper – into my life each day.

On a continuum, be it religious or political, my lens (or worldview) falls somewhere between far left and far right. From my vantage point, when I look in either direction, I see friends whom I love, who are themselves words of God infused with profound meaning and deserving of my utmost consideration.

If I speak from my worldview, my place along the continuum, and express a perspective at odds with yours, I hope you will be patient with me. And, I hope you will recognize that I have arrived at my position after careful soul-searching… and often with an anguish born of love.

Most people, I believe, follow a similarly thoughtful path of discernment. In our politically volatile culture, however, even good, sensitive people seem prone to lose sight of this.

The world may indeed have its share of small-minded people, spouting bigotries and reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the issues of the day. Nonetheless, to presume such a disposition in another, especially on the sole basis of a conflicting worldview, seems a grave offense against that person’s dignity. Further, presuming such a disposition of an entire group or community of people (e.g., “traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholics; or, members of the “Tea Party” or the “Occupy Movement”) represents, in my opinion, a genuine flirtation with evil.

We are quick, these days, to demonize. It is so much easier, after all, to brand and dismiss someone than it is to listen thoughtfully to the circumstances that have shaped that person’s perspective. Such is the carelessness of our age; and, we collectively suffer as a result. The chasms between us are sometimes shockingly wide and deep. But love and respect are a marvelous bridge and a reason for hope.

I am pro-life. I say that with no intent to confront or accuse, though some may hear it as such. I say it though painfully aware of the exploitative, abusive, and terribly irresponsible behavior so often manifest in those of my gender. I say it with shame for the ways in which such behavior has been manifest in me. I am truly sorry! And, I am pro-life!

Perhaps it will help if I explain that I see all life as proceeding from the mind of a loving God. When I see you, regardless of your worldview, I see one who has been intended for all eternity, who has been “spoken” into existence purposefully, and who has a worth well beyond my comprehension. God does not waste words!

For us, however, language is often a big problem. Civil discourse has all but evaporated because of, what I call, a “contraceptive mentality” (i.e., an automatic tendency to close our minds and dig in our heels the moment certain buzz words or phrases are uttered, such as “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” etc.). Such barriers – or shields, to borrow an image from Star Trek – prevent the life-generating sharing of our human stories and prohibit discovery of what we hold in common, including our shared beliefs and frailties.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)

Do we believe this in practice? What if, for example, one of two is a strident so-called “American Catholic” and the other an unapologetic “Papist?” Before considering the possible tenor of their conversation, perhaps we should wonder if they ever would “gather” in the first place… in the name of the Lord they both profess.

It seems irresistible to mock the “left-wing loon” or the “right-wing bigot,” as though the entirety of a person’s life, the complex circumstances that have forged her/his worldview, has no validity. How can we miss this injustice in ourselves?

It hurts terribly to be branded! And, make no mistake; we are diminished profoundly by branding others!

So, we remain a polarized people, living in fear and anger, suspicious of each other, and yet craving to be understood and accepted.

There is a creed that I profess. In faith, I embrace the elements of that creed as “objectively true” in the fullest sense of that phrase. My understanding of these truths, however, remains a work-in-progress, especially regarding their practical and pastoral application. I am reminded of the traditional definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As a person of faith, my life’s work is to strive for a deeper understanding of all of God’s wonderful words – the ones printed on pages in holy books that I treasure… and, the ones who will pass by me, some on my left and some on my right, as I live this day.

The gift that is this day!