Listening to Our Pain

by Johnny Sears on Thursday, November 17, 2016

Throughout this election season in the U.S., I have found myself heartbroken. The source of my heartbreak is the way we have and are treating one another. The shadow side of our society is on full display. Across the social, political, gender, sexual orientation, and racial spectrum, decades of unprocessed pain has come to the surface. That pain is now firmly in the driver’s seat of our national discourse. We talk past one another more than with one another. All the while, we fail to really see, hear, or acknowledge the experience and basic human dignity of others – especially those who are different from us. As a result, our suffering continues.

Our failure to listen to one another is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus who said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Jesus also commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the gospel of Luke, after hearing this command, a lawyer – wanting to justify himself – asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the good Samaritan; illustrating that the definition of neighbor extended to the person who was most different from the lawyer. As my friend and colleague Claire McKeever-Burgett said, “My people is everybody if I claim to follow Jesus.” There are no exceptions to who we are called to love.

In a 2009 issue of Weavings Journal, Parker Palmer wrote an article entitled, The Broken-Open Heart. In the article, he writes, “Violence arises when we do not know what else to do with our suffering…we must learn to acknowledge and name our suffering honestly and openly to ourselves and to others. This is called ‘becoming vulnerable.’”

As followers of Jesus, one of the most important ways we can love our neighbor is to hold sacred space and deeply listen in a way that they can acknowledge and name their suffering. I call it hearing one another into being. It is the practice of sitting with and being present to each other’s pain so that we can allow ourselves to actually feel what it is we need to feel (rather than ignoring the pain or venting it onto another) and learn what the pain desires to teach us about who we are and what we need to thrive as human beings. Such an act has the power to transform us, our relationships, and perhaps even our world.

As people who have experienced The Academy, you know what this looks like. The Academy somehow holds people together from across theological and political spectrums. We transcend and include those differences because we create safe space to listen, be vulnerable, and name our suffering without trying to correct or repair.

At this crucial time of deep division in our world, I invite those who have been shaped by The Academy, I invite YOU, to employ the practices of creating safe space and deep listening in your home communities. How can you bring people together into experiences of sacred listening? During holiday gatherings, I invite you to read all of Parker Palmer’s article with your friends and family. Just like at The Academy, create safe space for your people to share their honest reflections and their broken hearts. You are prepared and equipped for this work. Let us commit to working together to transform our pain into love.   

2 Comments

Comment by Joyce of colorado springs, CO

Johnny, I want to thank you for reminding me of the beautiful image of hearing people into being. Unprocessed suffering Yes! As I prepare today for my Advent services with Isaiah's great vision of wholeness, i appreciate your words as my grounding prayer. Thank you. Joyce

Posted November 17, 2016 at 05:20PM CST
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