Think of that person who gets under your skin. Maybe they do something that you do not like. Maybe they do not believe what you believe or think how you think.
What would happen, though, if you became genuinely, intentionally curious about them? What if there was no aversion, only an intense desire to learn how they see the world?
Here is one way in. Picture yourself in a classroom with them. Now, hand them the chalk and go sit down. Let them teach you. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t prepare a rebuttal while they are talking. Let them really sketch it all out for you. Let them cover the whole board.
When we are able to listen like this, a whole world opens up. Our vision becomes expansive. We see that they, like us, carry fear, and this fear makes us all do things that don’t make sense. We see a way forward in relationship.
These days, I think this is what is meant, in the prayer of St. Francis, by the lines: “O Master, let me not seek as much…to be understood as to understand…”
“The first proclamation of the resurrection was not a statement to be unpacked, but a sign to be contemplated. In a burial ground, near a grave, in a place where everything should be orderly and peaceful, the women “found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they went in, they did not find the body” (vv. 2-3). Easter begins by upsetting our expectations. It comes with the gift of a hope that surprises and amazes us.” (emphasis added)
How can contemplation of this image, this sign, be a gift to us in places where we are stuck?
Every time we sit down to talk with another person, it is, in a sense, a double date. We are each there, of course, but we have also brought along our inner voice, that chatter in our head about how the world (and the other person) should be.
That chatter keeps us from attending to the other, truly walking with them and loving them.
And we all have the chatter. (The times when we think we don’t are when it can get in the way the most.)
This chatter (and so the double date aspect) will never entirely go away, but conversations (and, over years, relationships) go better when we each do our part to turn down the volume on this inner commentary.
How to turn down the chatter? My best answer at the moment is to: 1) see it when it arises, and gently let it go, over and over for years, and 2) root in a reality bigger than ourselves so we do not think we need the chatter to control the world.
Let’s learn to turn down the chatter to tune in to each other.
Last week, I wrote that a few friends and I had adapted a Quaker “clearness committee” process to accompany one another. Here is a description of how we adapted the process.
1. We read this article about the original process, so we could incorporate as much of it as we could into our limited version.
2. We committed to this process with each other, nominated a first focus person, and then set a date and time for the first meeting. (And we schedule successive meetings / nominate the next focus person as one meeting concludes.)
3. The week before, the focus person sends the group a write up (usually 2-3 pages) giving an account of where they find themselves in their vocation, conceived broadly. (We have followed the article (See point #2) and included “a concise statement of the problem,” “relevant background,” and “hunches for what is on the horizon”.)
4. We meet at the scheduled time for one hour. The focus person briefly recaps their write-up and then the others ask honest, open-ended questions (See point #6) that the focus person can answer or simply consider.
5. In the final minutes, the group reflects back to the focus person something significant that they saw or heard during the process. (For example, they might reflect back when they saw the focus person was most animated.)
6. Following the session, the scribe emails the group with a list of questions that were asked. (The questions are often significant gifts to the others in the group.)
The point is for the focus person to listen to what occurs within them… where is their desire, where are they hiding or evading? All parts of the structure are at the service of this listening.
A “clearness committee” is a Quaker ritual in which a “focus person” who is approaching an important life decision gathers trusted friends, presents context relevant to the upcoming discernment, and invites, for three hours, those gathered to ask kenotic, open-ended questions to help the person consider the issue more deeply. At the end of the three hours, those gathered reflect back to the focus person what they have seen and heard.
The main point is to hold a space for the focus person to listen to what arises within them during the process. Put another way, the exercise lovingly introduces material for the discernment of spirits.
I’ve never done this complete process, perhaps because of a lack of initiative and imagination or due to constraints of time and physical distance.
I have, though, once a month for the past five months, gathered on Zoom with four dear friends (and also fathers) for one hour for a simplified clearness committee. We sign on, from California, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, briefly catch up, and dive in. (I’ll write next week explaining how we have modified the process.)
It is so simple, and such a profound gift. When else have I been offered questions (that is to say, invitations to a fuller life) out of deep love and hope from friends I have known for 15+ years? What would replace the intimacy of knowing and engaging another’s history in this way?
This sort of thing takes initiative and dedication of precious time. And it is all too easy to put off until tomorrow.
Yesterday, we were told that we were dust. If someone internalizes and lives by this, being in their presence is a remarkable thing. The quote below from Sr. Joan Chittister’s book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily names well what I mean.
“People who are really humble, who know themselves to be earth or humus – the root from which our word “humble” comes – have about themselves an air of self-containment and self-control. There’s no haughtiness, no distance, no sarchasm, no put downs, no airs of importance or disdain. The ability to deal with both their own limitations and the limitations of others, the recognition that God is in life and that they are not in charge of the universe brings serenity and hope, inner peace and real energy. Humble people walk comfortably in every group… And because they’re at ease with themselves, they can afford to be open with others…”
(And here is the big one.)
“Humility is not a false rejection of God’s gifts. To exaggerate the gifts we have by denying them may be as close to narcissism as we get in life. No, humility is the admission of God’s gifts to me and the acknowledgement that I have been given them for others. Humility is the total continuing surrender to God’s power in my life and in the lives of those around me.” (emphasis added)
The presence of people like this is transformative. That is, when we meet someone thus centered, we want to become more like them. So, for Lent, let’s go find and cherish some truly humble people.