On the UCC website, the Daily Devotional today is a reflection by Felix Carrion on an excerpt from Psalm 40:1-11. “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear.”
Mr. Carrion focuses on the second part of the sentence, that what God wants – more than our tithes, more than our offerings, more than the time we spend in the pews or on mission trips – is for us to listen. Just…be still and listen. Which is something most of us, myself included, find very hard to do. We fill our days and our nights. We believe that being busy is being productive is leading an admirable, worthwhile life. Meditation seems very exotic, if not weird, to most Americans.
Making the space to listen for the still speaking whisper of God’s voice in our lives is important. It’s something I need to work at.
But, reading Mr. Carrion’s reflection this week, I was struck more by the fact that making space to listen – really listen, and try to understand – is also something we need to get much better at with each other.
There’s been a lot written and said this week about the state of political discourse and the general tenor of our relationship to one another as citizens of this wildly diverse country.
Some people insist there’s nothing to talk about. That it’s all just free speech. That we need to not be so ‘soft’ that heated rhetoric and clear-cut insults bother us.
Nonsense, says I.
The fact we are allowed to say just about anything in this country does not mean that we should. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility for what we say. And while the courts have been careful not to restrict free speech except in cases where clear, imminent harm may be caused (No yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, as the classic example goes.) we as individuals and as a living, evolving culture need not stop there. Every day we make decisions about how to exercise our right to free speech and what we’ll allow others to say by continuing to provide them with an audience.
I started by talking about listening and now I’m talking about speech. But, they’re directly related. If we’re bent on talking non-stop, louder and louder until the other person gives in (whether it is our child, our partner, our colleague, our political opponent) we’re not listening. If our only goal is to score points or win votes or demean someone, we’re not listening. If we’re not listening, conversation stops. If conversation stops, we can’t ever hope to understand one another. If we don’t understand one another, we grow distant and, generally, distrustful of one another. And just a bit further down that road lie fear and violence.
Listening is hard. Not just because it takes time we convince ourselves we don’t have, but because we actually have to open ourselves, open our perspective. We have to accept the fact we may not actually be right, or that we may have to figure out a way to move forward that doesn’t include convincing the other person to wholesale adopt our point of view.
So, committing to having an open ear, as the psalm says, is not just an important step in our relationship with God, it is a timely and important step in our relationship with each other.
May we embrace the challenge and grow closer to God and one another.