I’ve always enjoyed children’s books. Children’s books often distill a great story or a moral teaching down to its essence. St. Mark’s Gospel (4:34) tells us that Jesus “did not speak to them except in parables.” (NRSV) That’s a striking, incredible endorsement of the power of stories to sneak past our defenses and go straight to our heart.
This morning I was reading Cori Doerrfeld’s book, The Rabbit Listened. The story tells of a child, Taylor, who builds a beautiful structure out of blocks, only to see it torn apart by a flock of crows. Various animals suggest solutions – shouting, laughing, rebuilding, etc. but Taylor isn’t ready to do anything they suggest. At last, a rabbit comes along. He simply sits with Taylor until he is ready to talk. Taylor talks and talks and finally comes around to doing everything the others had suggested – prematurely. This story dramatizes how listening and being heard can be critical in healing. The innate power of connection is reflected in Jesus saying (Matthew 18:20 NRSV), “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them”.
Every one of us needs to be heard and thereby connected – not only to other people, but also to our own emotions that we have not previously expressed or even recognized. This communication moves us towards more awareness and fosters our wholeness. (In Old English, wholeness and holiness have the the same root – “hal”.)
Being heard without being judged breaks our isolation. It acknowledges and validates us by showing our innate worth. It lets us rest while someone else holds the awareness of our situation for a while. Unfortunately, this kind of deep, healing listening has declined a lot in our culture. Is it any surprise that public discourse is getting louder and louder as people clamor to be heard and to feel heard? If we are to heal our private and public discourse and crises, we urgently need to listen.
Dr. Margaret Wheatley, whose doctorate in Organizational Behavior and Change is from Harvard University, says, “I would like to encourage us all to play our part in the great healing that needs to occur everywhere. Think about whom you might approach–someone you don’t know, don’t like, or whose manner of living is a mystery to you. What would it take to begin a conversation with that person? Would you be able to ask them for their opinion or explanation, and then sit quietly to listen to their answer? Could you keep yourself from arguing, or defending, or saying anything for a while? Could you encourage them to just keep telling you their version of things, their side of the story? It takes courage to begin this type of conversation. But listening, rather than arguing, also is much easier.”