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Listening to each other, and to God

As we move through a period of increasing industrial unrest, Andy Bryant urges us to spend more time listening to each other’s point of view.

What I have found most frustrating about last week’s train strikes has not been the disruption to travel nor the interruption of the lives of those who depend on trains for work or other aspects of their lives. What I have found hardest is the rancour. The strike has just become another example of the rancorous nature of our present day society.
 
The union leaders, employers and politicians have all tried to monopolise centre stage.  Each has spoken is if their view was the self-evidently right point of view.  The failings all lay with the others because they simply did not understand.  The language used was at best robust and at worse often inflammatory.  Each portrayed it as a fight in which they would be the winners and the others would have to give way.
 
This now is the way that we are with one another creating a deeply unattractive, macho, “I’m right; you’re wrong” raucous and rancorous society where talk of the common good and the search for common ground is regarded as the stuff of whimps.
 
All societies have their rancorous moments but in Britain this has become our almost constant approach to everything.  Things came to a head over Brexit and the antagonistic approach to public life has just continued from there.  The referendum gave us a decision but settled nothing.  Remainers became remoaners and leavers blamed everything on the ghost of Europe.  A new bitterness entered everything from climate protests to independence referendums. 
 
There was a brief pause in these attitudes during the early stages of the pandemic, but soon vaxers and anti-vaxers, lockdowners and open-uppers, the masked and the unmasked, the partygoers and the stay at homers soon restored the rancour.  And as pandemic disputes started to fade they were replaced with rancour around the fuel crisis, the cost of living crisis – and anything to do with refugees always generates rancour. Whatever the issue there is nothing it seems that we cannot use to berate those who disagree with us for their short-sightedness, their lack of understanding and their limitless ignorance.
 
Where, oh where is the wisdom that can guide us through the storms that beset us? Where is the wisdom that founded the earth and established the heavens, that will keep us from stumbling and give us sweet sleep?
 
Beside West Door of Norwich cathedral stands the figure of Benedict, above, his finger raised to his lips.  Although it might be tempting to portray this as Benedict's telling a noisy and raucous world to be quiet, Benedict is in fact calling us to something more important.  Benedict’s instruction is not to tell us to shut up – itself a rancorous command – but rather he is calling us to listen.
 
It is not about us trying to get our voice heard, ensure others hear our point of view.  It is not about showing others that we are right, and they are wrong.  It is not about imposing on others what we hold as self-evident truths.  It is rather about us daring to stop and listen, truly listen to the other. 
 
To listen is to give the other value, it is to say they matter, it is to affirm that I can learn from you, it is to acknowledge that I can only find the way ahead with your help, that truth is not possession but something we can only find together.  Listening says that I am willing to see the world through your eyes, to encounter your perspective and to accept that in that encounter I am open to the possibility of being changed.  It is about discovering the things we hold in common, and from that shared territory we can build the common good.
 
It may not make a great news soundbite but what if strikers, employers, and government declined to be interviewed because they wanted to find space to listen and learn from one another and together find an agreed way forward?
 
And Benedict did not just want us to listen to one another, but to listen to God.  In his rule Benedict weaves together Scripture to remind us that we are all under God and will be answerable to God and that this should cause each of us to weigh our every thought, word and deed. 
 
Community flourishes not by one imposing their views and actions on the others but by each embracing both the gifts and the needs of the others.  A choir is never about one voice seeking to impose its presence on the others rather harmonies emerge as each voice listens to the voices around them, each learning to play their part alongside the others.  This is why singing has always been such a wonderful way to build community.
 
But amidst the raucous and rancorous cries of our society to stand with finger on lips and say “listen” will seem to many to be just folly.
 
And as the very idea of listening is laughed at and dismissed as too simplistic, I find myself thinking of the One, alone and abandoned, and in a sweat of fear, knowing he could call on twelve legions of angels and get His will done.  But instead, He went on alone, embracing the cross, enduring the shame, preferring the powerlessness to an enforced power, emptying himself that others might discover a foolishness that is wiser than the world’s wisdom.
 
The world does not need my rancour but for me, in Benedict’s words, to listen with the ear of my heart.  The beginning of wisdom is not “Lord hear my prayer” but “speak Lord - your servant is listening”.
 
 
The photo of St Benedict is courtesy of Leo Reynolds on flickr under Creative Commons.



Andrew BryantCFThe Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
 
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry
here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.



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Feedback:
Jim (Guest) 29/06/2022 09:31
Very good.

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