Listen. Period.

The beauty of having a dad who grew up on the coast is that every summer, for most of the summers in our childhood, we would head south to Corpus Christi, Texas. Aside from the obvious joys of reconnecting with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents, the highlight of our trip was our outing to Padre Island, one of Texas’ several barrier islands and home to some of our better beaches.

As much as we all like to joke that Texas coasts are the “landfill of the Gulf” due to the way currents run from Florida, we saw our fair share of wildlife: stingrays, jellyfish, and the almost apocryphal tale of the time my dad emerged from the waves with tiny fish in his swimming shorts (8 year-old Kristen thought it was absolutely hilarious, obviously).

One of my favorite things to do was to gather sea shells. There were not too many whole ones; often, what I would uncover was fragments here and there. One trip, I distinctly remember enlisting my cousins in the search for shells, and after a long quest interrupted by some boogie board sessions and a few unauthorized trips to explore the nearby dunes, one of my cousins unearthed what appeared to be a hermit crab shell that was the size of my tiny, fourth-grade palm.

We all marveled at it, then fought over it, and then were instructed to return it to the ocean since we were all behaving like you would expect children would. But before the adults stepped in to reestablish order, we took turns listening to it, holding it up to our ears and listening for the ocean.

For the scientists out there, yes, I know we were all hearing our own heartbeats, but at the time, it was like hearing a diary of this little house, as if the little crab has written all of his or her thoughts on the walls and we were now hearing them. Every wave, every storm surge, every brush of seaweed- it was all there, and all we had to do was listen.

We seem to have lost the art of listening. 

Now, before you jump into naming names who I’m sure we’re all tempted to name (given that it is October of 2018, after all), hear me out for a moment.

We seem to have lost the art of listening, both liberals and conservatives. We’ve replaced our duty to bear one another up with divisive actions such as judgement, and categorizing, and making blanket assumptions about large groups of diverse people.

Friends, the best part about listening is that it essentially requires very little effort. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult, especially for those of us who think we have awesome opinions, but on paper, it really is an easy task. 

When was the last time you felt listened to? When was the last time you felt truly heard? What did it feel like?

Truth, aside from the scientific variety, is hard. We all think we know it, and yet sometimes we are wrong. However, if we commit ourselves to the holy process of listening, it’s amazing how much truth we can actually glean.

Richard Rohr puts it like this:

We cannot settle today’s confusion by pretending to have absolute and certain answers. But we must not give up seeking truth, observing reality from all its angles. We settle human confusion not by falsely pretending to settle all the dust, but by teaching people an honest and humble process for learning and listening, which we call contemplation. Then people come to wisdom in a calm and compassionate way. There will not be the knee jerk overreactions that we have in so many on both Left and Right today.

I grew up believing that the mere act of listening was somehow dangerous, that Satan could enter my mind just by my listening to someone who was different from me. The weirdly funny thing is that the times I have felt the presence of God the most intimately has been when I laid down my axe that I was grinding and just simply observed what was happening around me. Empathy needs space to grow. Compassion needs silence to flourish. God needs us to listen with intent to one another. Note that I don’t say that we have to agree.

As we move forward, one of the only ways I can see any hope is to listen to the hearts of my neighbors. Like a seashell, it’s amazing the stories you will hear.