Our communities are growing anxious. The coronavirus has raised a new level of uncertainty and vulnerability in our midst, causing fear of death, frustration with protective measures, and keeping us from the solace we gain from simply walking into church or sharing a meal with friends.
These fears and frustrations have begun to take their toll on our imaginations. Fear has a way of flying under the radar of consciousness, manifesting itself in my being short with family, friends and neighbors, presenting itself in all manner of discord and enmity toward others. The fear of death—our fear of losing control—also keeps me from hearing my neighbor; it keeps me from seeking understanding, inclining me, rather, to seek not understanding but to distance myself from anything that compels me to deal with my fear of death or loss of control.
It is the human condition. Freedom from this fear is acquired only when we let go of the felt need to control, and live as though we have died with Christ, so that we can experience life in Christ by the daily taking up of our crosses. The first step toward freedom is listening.
Steven Covey famously said that, "Most people listen not with the intent to understand but with the intent to reply." The danger we face as Christians, as a human community, in this present moment, is that our fears and frustrations, if they are left unnamed and ignored, will continue to clog our ears and blind our eyes from hearing and seeing what the Spirit is saying and revealing to us regarding our life together as Christ's Body in this world.
How will we know that we are listening? It begins in simple ways. Ask yourself, when you last spoke with anyone about anything, when they shared a story, information or concern, did you ask questions to draw out more of the story? Did you ask for more information or ask them to describe the situation, so that you would more fully understand their perspective or pain? Or, did you immediately share with them a similar experience you have had, jump to console them, or tell them what you already knew? If so, you were listening to reply and not to understand. We all do it. It's a cultural problem. The world has become individualistic in ways that have compromised the very ability to have a conversation, compromising our ability to be present with one another.
Nevertheless, we have an opportunity to change the narrative. We have an opportunity to transform our communities to be places where all of us are heard and all of us are received and welcomed. It begins with Faith Seeking Understanding. As the prayer of St. Francis articulates,
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console To be understood as to understand To be loved as to love For it is in giving that we receive It is in pardoning that we are pardoned And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
To the degree that we set aside our own desires to be consoled, understood, and loved is the degree to which we begin to experience the consolation, understanding and overwhelming love of God that gives life to our bodies and souls, and brings healing to this broken world.
I invite you, then, in this moment, to listen. Below are links to two sermons preached by The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Moss tells a story that our world desperately needs to hear. Watch both with open hearts, minds, ears, and eyes, and listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Let us listen to understand, and become more and more bearers of the healing power of God for all who suffer in this world.