Yesterday morning, our family had to stay home instead of gathering with our church community, something we don't like to make a frequent practice of. We sang and prayed and read together in the living room, and at the end I asked everyone who could, to give a response through writing a few short lines. Those who wanted to read theirs aloud. Sadie's was the most poetic, hopeful, and not surprisingly, childlike. I loved it.
Listening to each person share their bare and barely-birthed thoughts after (attempting to) worship together, it made me begin to think about how well, or not well, I attend to the words of others, especially the others in my life who are so important to me, the God-given ones I am attending to in every way I can. When you argue with your husband, it's pretty easy to see how quickly you settle into your own thoughts and feelings and have a hard time listening with any sort of empathy or understanding. And there are more areas than just husband-wife spats where the practice of "attending to" the other is glaringly absent.
I just began to read "The Warmth of Other Suns," a narrative history of the Great Migration of the negro south to the north during the 20th century. Josh recently finished it, and I feel like I've been listening to him moan from various places throughout the house as his gut responses have been visceral and at many times pained. It seems like an important, if not a bit foreboding read. But right now, more than ever, or perhaps just as much as ever, it seems like we need a new understanding, at the very least an attempt at understanding, the life and history of our fellow black Americans. If we listened and attended to these stories, heard the words and digested the histories that have shaped a people, took seriously we stand accountable for recognizing and treating these stories with importance, would we be awakened to a humaneness that has been lacking?
Carolyn Forche is a fascinating poet/writer who years ago coined the phrase, "Poetry of Witness." She means this as a way of reading poets who endured horrific events in their life such as war, torture, exile or repression, and seeing in their writing, even if not written explicitly about the events, a way they were changed or affected by those experiences. It's giving witness to the whole of the person who is writing, who is speaking. Listening to her talk, I was profoundly affected by the way she exhibited carefulness, attentiveness, and embodied care for people beyond sound bites or pithy cause-driven statements about social justice. She sounded like the kind of person we should want to be like.
The faith of a soul that is reaching up to God, being transformed into his likeness, has to permeate every area of life. If I listen to the words of my daughter as she confesses her selfishness and her hurt for a friend and her doubt sometimes that God is real, if I listen to my husband's need to be considered and my son's hurt at too much sarcasm, I no less need to listen to my neighbors, fellow citizens, and Image-of-God bearers who have stories and glories and a range of human experience to tell.
Overall, I think what I'm getting at is that part of our response to God, our attentiveness to Him, is being mindful of having a careful, studied, patient, and gracious attentiveness to one another, a life of witness.
Last week my grandmother died, and being far away and unable to attend the funeral, I read the painful and yet honest but beautiful eulogy my mom wrote about her mother and her tangled family history. It struck me as one of attentiveness, of witness. In spite of their failures, she saw her parents good intentions. Instead of seeing them merely for the ways they hurt her, she tried to see them for the whole of who they were. Whether it was enough or not enough, I think in some way it was honoring, and perhaps in a small way, healing. It's something we all must try to do for one another.