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Listening as hospitality

Merica Gellerman of Messiah, Chester and Hugh Wallace of All Saints', Millington practice listening through Dwelling in the Word. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Merica Gellerman of Messiah, Chester and Hugh Wallace of All Saints', Millington practice listening through Dwelling in the Word. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

I have been thinking a lot about the dynamics of listening, partly because we did a lot of listening at our Diocesan Convention. And partly because we are slated to more of it on Saturday, March 4, when people from across the diocese will gather for a morning to learn how they might design a three month “excursion of listening” in their congregation and community.

My listening skills have been sharpened over the past two years or so by the regular practice of listening to scripture, which we call “Dwelling in the Word.” It is targeted listening; by my official count I have been in groups that have read Joshua 3:1-11 (Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River) about 50 times; and Luke 10:1-12 (Jesus sending out the 70) over 100 times. And it is disciplined listening; listening to what the passage is saying to me, but also what it is inviting me to do. These passages have yet to get stale; in fact, they continue to be springboards for creativity and imagination. And the Dwelling in the Word exercise also involves listening to what the text is saying to a partner – and then reporting that out to the larger group. It is double-duty listening.

I have long been taught that listening is a necessary social courtesy. And indeed it is; and in our current cultural climate that courtesy is being undermined by the growing need to score points, win arguments and challenge, if not completely disparage, another perspective – not to mention denouncing whole cohorts of people. But I am beginning to realize that deep listening goes beyond courtesy; it is a vital ingredient of hospitality.

To truly listen requires the hospitality of inviting someone else to speak, and the hospitality of creating space for that to happen. The level of speaking and listening is directly dependent on the sincerity of the invitation and the level of safety of the space.

Some people find it hard to speak. They don’t trust the invitation, or are skeptical of the safety of the space. And some people dare not speak. As I have been listening to people this past week, I have learned that in at least four of our congregations (both rural and urban) there are parishioners who fear they will be deported. Most have been here for decades, and have fully integrated themselves into their respective communities. Some have green cards; some have DACA status (Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals); some have no social security number. They are scared. They don’t know what will happen next. To respond to an invitation to speak from someone who is truly ready to listen may feel like a reckless risk.

And so the challenge to listen is even more urgent. To listen to scripture. To listen to each other. To listen to the Spirit. And as we listen, we learn more about the need for hospitality, and how best to offer it in such distressing and disruptive times. If ever we have had the need for creativity and imagination – to offer hospitality in new ways, now is the time.

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