Monday, February 16, 2015

Listening: A February Invitation

Over the weekend I spent about 24 hours with 11 women with whom I am beginning a yearlong journey. Some I already knew; others I met for the first time. We spent much of our time sharing and listening to pieces of each other's stories. What a privilege. They are wise women.

A month or so ago when one of the initiators told me about this journey - whose path is greater authenticity and whose destination will be determined by each of us - I immediately decided I wanted to be a part of it. Another friend also responded to the invitation with an unhesitating "Yes!" But later when we were talking about it, she said she wasn't so sure, that maybe she should have thought it through more before replying. I reminded her that the journey itself was about trusting her gut. She stopped doubting her decision.

In this world we so often fail to listen - sometimes to own inner voice that says it's time to embark upon a new venture. Sometimes to the wise voices around us that want only the best for us. Sometimes to the voices that challenge our perspective on the way our world is or should be. Sadly, our culture does not readily offer examples of good listening.

I am thankful that my inner voice is strong and clear when it comes to some aspects of my life (specifically how/where/when I live and work). That voice has invited me to take steps towards an expanded vision of myself, other people, the world, and the connections we share. I have never been disappointed. My work has always been more than simply something to fill my time and pay my bills (sometimes I have even paid to do the work!). That wise voice within has led me from classroom teaching to volunteering teaching to writing and peacemaking and she had led me to places all over the world. I look forward to seeing where else she might guide me.

In other areas of life, my inner voice isn't so clear or, perhaps more accurately, I am less inclined to trust her.  She is the voice that know that I am enough - I argue with her and tell her all the reasons that's not true. She is the voice that that tells me to let go of things or people that are not meant to play a role in my life anymore - I return to her my fear of letting go and of the hole their absence will leave. I too often ignore her in those cases.

About a year ago I wrote about four peacemaking practices I am trying to live. Time and time again, I have have returned to one in particular: Listen. Really listen. Really really listen. In the article I was writing about listening to other people. The year since its writing has taught me just how much of a novice I am at this practice. Certainly there are times where I open myself intentionally and widely, knowing I might encounter an unfamiliar truth that comes from someone else's lived experience. However, when an unexpected voice challenges what I know, I am apt to build a wall of resistance to their truth. And too often, going in with the best of intentions, I find myself so busy choosing my replies and forming my counterarguments that I forget to listen well.

After writing the article, I wrote another about a time I thought I had listened well. Later I was embarrassed to realize that I hadn't listened very well at all. The fact that I even wrote about the exchange was a good indication that I wanted to prove my own points more than I wanted to listen to someone else's.

Thankfully, I have a number of friends who are skilled listeners. They ask wide-open questions and after listening without interruption and without judgment, they offer affirmation that they've heard what was said. Observing their skill, I am ever more aware of how quickly I turn to assumptions and judgments that limit the possibility of broader understanding and deeper connection. I am glad to have models before me who remind me of what my listening practice might look like some day.

And so I come to a new invitation. Last month I offered my first intention and invitation to you. And now, though we're more than halfway through February, I offer my second:

Listen. Really listen. Really really listen.

Only you know whether you most need to offer trust and openness to your inner voice, the voices of others, or (as in my case) both. I will be trying to listen more consistently to my inner voice and to listen to others without judgment. Last year, with the intent to practice dialogue, I sought a person who would greatly challenge my worldview. We met once before I went to Palestine. I hope to re-open our conversation and to remain in it, even when it is difficult and shakes me to the core. I hope to listen compassionately.

Whether you make time for quiet to hear the soft voice within, or you seek someone who challenges you, or you try to listen better in your day-to-day interactions, I hope you will join me.

I believe that listening - really listening - is one of the greatest acts of love we can offer. I ask you to pray for me or send me good thoughts or whatever you do to spread goodness towards me as I try to listen better. If you want me to, I will do the same for you.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wildly Inadequate

This morning I drove straight towards the blaze of the rising sun, on my way from the first of four sessions on the Qur'an and Islam. I was feeling energized by the first exploration, already looking forward to the next when two words popped into my head:

wildly inadequate

I'm participating in the study in part because I'm working on the revision of a program designed to foster dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims.

wildly inadequate

Despite having spent months in places where most of the people I interact with are Muslim, I know very little about Islam. This morning only served as reinforcement of that fact. I can tell you about my Muslims friends who've offered me hospitality and kindness: tea and sweets, conversation and invitations to come again. I can tell you about Muslim strangers who have offered the same: the Jordanian I met in Istanbul who helped me navigate public transportation, buying me a bus ticket, guiding me to the right bus, and talking to the driver so I'd be let off in the right place. I can't tell you much about the Qur'an. I can't tell you much about the religion's history. I can't tell you if what is written in our program will work for everyone.

I am wildly inadequate for the task ahead of me.

For some people, that knowledge might feel limiting. They might ask: Why try if I don't have the skills or the knowledge that I need? I might fail.

For me this morning, sun shining so bright I was nearly blinded, the words "wildly inadequate" were liberating!

What an opportunity for learning! How much might I grow in this process? Who might my teachers be?

If I already had the answers, I wouldn't need to learn. I couldn't be blinded by the sudden brightness of awareness, or awed by the clarity that comes with the slow adjustment to new light.

Instead of being filled with fear by my wealth of ignorance, I choose to open myself up, allowing the fear to leave in its own time, allowing whatever I may need to come my way and to find a home in me.

There seems to be energy swirling around me, turning me towards the connections that will guide my work, connections that will live with me long after the work is done. I choose to trust the swirling, the movement that is happening with very little help from me.

Wildly inadequate, I trust not so much in my abilities, but in my willingness. Time after time, steeped in the certainty of my deficiencies, I've said "Yes!" to things that didn't seem to make a lot of sense to anyone but me. Sometimes a "Yes!" didn't even make sense to me until long after the fact. Time after time, the deficiencies I perceived were actually strengths or led me to the strength of others. My weaknesses have led me to stumble and to be picked up. They've led me new friends. They've led me to new knowledge, and sometimes, even a bit of wisdom.

And so today, I celebrate the fact that I will never know it all. I celebrate that there will always be opportunities to open myself anew. I celebrate the fact that I need others to help me. I celebrate that I am