by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
Two years ago I traveled to the Kanuga retreat center in North Carolina for my first spiritual direction training intensive at the Haden Institute. There, I met my small group for the first time – a peer group of trainees who would go through the training together. At our first meeting, I wasn’t sure I’d fit in very well. Almost everyone but me was Christian; almost everyone was from the South. And here I was, a non-Christian Unitarian Universalist who had never felt like such a Northerner in all my life! I wasn’t sure they would accept me. I wasn’t sure I would understand them and their lives.
But by the end of that first intensive, we had wholeheartedly claimed each other as friends. What made it possible was listening and speaking our truth, each in turn. One at a time, we shared our stories with the group – the journeys of our lives so far, what was happening in our spiritual lives, what we were hoping and yearning for as the program began. And as each person spoke, the rest of us listened. Just listened. No need to do anything else. No need to give advice or even affirmation. Just listen deeply.
We held that space for each other over several days of sharing. When the last person had finished speaking, we looked around the circle and realized that we were soul friends now, because we had listened to each other’s stories and made a space in our hearts for each other’s truth. To hear others speak, for me, was often to be brought to tears as I glimpsed the common humanity, deep struggles and profound joy in the life of another human being. And to be heard – truly heard and accepted without judgment – this was a powerful gift to my spirit. I found my voice emerging in new ways, truths I didn’t know I possessed beginning to rise to the surface. I found I could begin to forgive myself for past mistakes I was still dragging around. I felt free, and loved.
Over the past two years, those bonds of friendship deepened as we continued to “hear each other into speech,” as theologian Nelle Morton puts it. Though we’ve graduated now, and the days of formal gathering and learning together have ended, I will cherish each one of my group mates as spiritual friends for life.
This is what listening to one another can do – just listening. It may not sound like much; it isn’t flashy; but it is powerful and it transforms lives.
In this cultural and political moment of name-calling, suspicion, hostility and prejudice, many in our society are desperate for another way of being with one another. What if we could bring this kind of listening not just to our friends, but to those with whom we have profound disagreements? What if we listened not to prove someone else wrong, but to connect with the humanity we share? And what if our listening stance could actually make it easier for others to hear our truth too? In this moment, each of us is seeking to restore to our society the “compassion and civility” that Rev. David so beautifully called us to and modeled for us yesterday. Listening deeply is one of our best tools in this work. And when it becomes not just a tool but a way of being, it can transform the world.
May it be so.