On Being Listened Through

I believe that Friends are being called to “listen spiritually” to those peoples who are the most destitute in this country and to “witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit within and among them” in order to “name the spiritual condition of the world.” (The post “Becoming a Wilderness People” contains the full statement of that leading.) In this post, I describe how we can prepare ourselves to listen spiritually, how “listening spiritually” and “witnessing to the presence of the Holy Spirit” are linked in the experience of being listened through, and how being listened through relates to this redemptive work that we have been called to participate in.Douglas Steere in his book “On Listening to Another” (which I rely on and quote from in this post) argues that speakers discern subconsciously whether or not they can trust a listener. Speakers evaluate whether or not the listener has anything at stake in the conversation and whether or not the listener will be able to handle what they have to say. Speakers determine whether the listener values their personhood or judges them by outward appearance, choices and/or behavior. If speakers perceive that the listener empathizes with their condition and has compassion for what they have lived through, speakers will open up and share of themselves with the listener.

To become persons who can be trusted to hear another’s story without judgment and to participate in the suffering that can be found in it, listeners must know their own story. To know one’s story, I believe we need to live through our own suffering twice. Once when we were hurt the first time and protected ourselves from the painful reality of the situation and then again when someone else listens to us talk about it so we can discover what it is that we were protecting. After we learn experientially the hardness of the world and the delicate nature of the soul, our ability to handle truth increases while our tendency to judge another decreases.

Once the conditions of vulnerability and openness are set, as Steere says, “the conversation can start where it will.” The listener listening; the speaker speaking. And then… Whose the listener is arises and listening becomes being listened through. The presence of “the living Listener” moves the encounter from conversation to transformation whereby that which is holy (whole making) is drawn out and confirmed and that which is the world’s refuse is drawn out and eliminated from both participants.

When we listeners start from a position of over-privilege, the process of naming the spiritual condition of the world begins with our preparation for listening. Prepared listeners have sifted through their experiences and have discovered the true nature of their stories. Through reflection, we can discern the spiritual realities that precipitated them. For example, we might come to see how the world separated us from our oneness with God and creation (Native Americans believe that creation is composed of “all of our relations”), colluded our living with injustice, and indoctrinated us in those customs that have and continue to precipitate war.

The process of naming the spiritual condition of the world continues when we white Friends allow ourselves to stand in the shoes of a person who has been marginalized. Through listening and reflection, I believe we will come to realize that the physical and social conditions of our disenfranchised brothers and sisters mirror the spiritual condition of our ancestors as well as those who currently sit in the seats of power. When we have the courage to acknowledge and articulate that the light of day reveals the spirituality of those who created and who maintain this Empire, including ourselves, we “become a part of the redemptive circle that longs to draw not only all [peoples] but all creation into its healing power.”

May we be led to be heard, to listen, and then to tell how we have been blind and now that we see that God did not and still does not support the injustice that are being perpetrated. Yahweh does desire that all peoples have access to the bounty of this land.


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