Listening and Baptism

Jan 13, 2013 | Field Notes

So much happens in our world. Sometimes I find myself feeling more like an observer than a participant. For example, this week in Canada we have been witnessing a countrywide uprising of First Nations people through their Idle No More campaign. First Nations, who have been, throughout our history, politically and economically marginalized, are seeking to re-establish their place within our country. Their leaders have sought, and achieved, a meeting with Federal government leaders so as to continue to heal pass hurts and to continue to build right relationship with other peoples, for their good and the good of all. While I cannot be physically present to these meetings, I am present in my heart and am listening.

Listening is foundational to spirituality. It is through an open and listening presence that I can create the grounds for relationship with others. If I do not listen, then there can be no lasting communication and all relationships require communication. Listening is the beginning of being present, of being in communion, of being in solidarity. Actions that are grounded in listening generally serve both individuals and communities in the long run.

But, it is not always easy to listen. Sometimes the ‘other’ is carrying wounds from the present or the past, or is full an anger, or has a voice that has been constrained or muted. At such times, I need to practice an ascetism of silence and, with patience, do what I can to create the safe conditions for the ‘other’ to feel able to speak. Sometimes my own personal story, my own biases, my own inner noise gets in the way of really hearing what the ‘other’ is saying. Then I need to listen to my own self, listen to my own needs, so that I may be open to another. If I can listen to the ‘other’, and the ‘other’ listen to me, then the foundations for community and solidarity can be laid. In a sense listening is the cornerstone for community and solidarity. One could even go so far as to say that listening is the foundation of democracy.

Today in the Christian calendar it is the day to remember the Baptism of Jesus. Long before his baptism the prophet Isaiah cried “prepare in the wilderness the way for our God”. It seems to me that listening is a key component in such preparation and that engaging in listening moves one from being an idle observer to an active participant. Listening and baptism, two facets of the spiritual life are connected.

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