Listening

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I’m reading a lovely book at the moment. I picked it up by chance and joined the library just to take it out. It has not disappointed.

It is more than the title says; far beyond a travelogue it is a deep soulful search into what it is to be human alongside the description of walking 4000 miles across America.

I’m currently about a fifth of a way through it and reading the story of someone whom he found hard to listen to: an evangelist:-

‘ I receive you’ the true listener says with her eyes, ‘I see you, no matter what you say, and I accept you, just as you are’. There’s a deeper kind of listening that is mutually exclusive with judgement and the desire to control or convert. Oddly enough, this kind of listening is the most subversively transformative; as soon as you don’t need someone to change their mind, they’re much more inclined to do so, because its not a fight. There’s no need to defend, and so it’s safe to explore something new. But that kind of listening isn’t easy, especially when what’s being heard  is abhorrent to you, when you know it’s causing harm. I didn’t want to receive the evangelist, or see him, or accept him. I tried to shut down, but he wouldn’t shut up’ (p77-78).

I sat with someone last week who began, in halting tones, to form what they believed. They talked about questions and struggles; things didn’t connect, but they were starting to.

And then someone preached. Well not preach exactly, but ‘correct’ what they said- tell them what the ‘right’ answers were. I could feel the harm and see the person begin to close down. I tried to stop them by opening up the space again, but it was too late.

I wonder what the person who had ‘preached’ would say: ‘I shared the gospel’? ‘I gave them the truth?’ ‘I lifted them from error’?

There has been some press in the last week or so about the Metropolitan Police arresting a street preacher; often in the type of Christian circles that are quick to scream ‘we are being persecuted’. I’ve watched the video: the police seem to be wrong in what they did, there is the issue of Freedom of Speech, but what struck me most was the ‘violence’ of the preacher- there seemed to be no listening to the culture, respect for the passers by or indeed respect- just a concern to get a point of view across without much regard for the other.

Maybe it is unfair of me to say this; I am a chaplain- I am not an evangelist (at least not in the sense in which it is often employed), but there does seem to be something deeply holy about listening for listening’s sake and not just to get enough ammunition to prove your truth. Maybe the more ‘sure’ you are means the more likely you are to listen.

Anyway; back to the book…