Dear Members and Friends,
God does not love some ideal person, but rather human beings just as we are, not some ideal world, but rather the real world.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century
In the reflection last week about listening I mentioned how author Diane Musho Hamilton suggests that listening and meditation have a lot in common. She pointed out how both a “letting go” of our “preoccupations of the self” and our internal thoughts and viewpoints. She goes on to share how difficult it is to shut those things down rather than to give in to them. Those silent opinions give us a reference point to hold on to. It is like having an internal handrail in the mind. I can listen to you as long as I have a sense of solidity, of safety, of security inside myself. If I give up the attachment to what I think and feel, I’m afraid I’ll drop into a kind of free fall. I’ll lose my grip on things. I won’t really know who I am or where I am going. Who knows, I might even die. I know this sounds dramatic and silly, but at some level, this is how tightly we hold on to our own perspective.
Why is this such a difficult struggle? To hold onto our preconceptions and opinions and ideas and viewpoints, as though if we let them go, even for a moment, we will lose ourselves. Are these things really who we are and are we totally defined by them? Is our identity and worth as individuals embedded in these aspects of our personality?
To some extent, I think that is the answer to why this struggle to let go of what we grasp so dearly and open ourselves to another human being, even to open ourselves to God, is so difficult. These ideas and viewpoints and opinions have been shaped and molded by the world around us and they have truly come to be what defines who we are. Along with that, they are the way we identify clearly that we have value.
For most of us, ever since we walked into that 1st Grade Classroom and began feeling the pressure of being “evaluated” we have been shaping our ideas and viewpoints in a way to “measure up.” We have internalized a pressure to earn – good grades, good job reviews, safety, abundance, sufficiency, God’s care, God’s love.
What we have actually internalized is the need to earn one’s value in God’s eyes – proving one’s worth by what one does, and how well one does it? Thus, doing becomes all that matters and being, not so much. When we stop “doing”and focus on “being,” we are no longer productive in any way that matters? Perhaps not in the eyes of the world, at least, which dares to measure our “net worth” in dollars, not wisdom or kindness or gentleness.
Listening and meditating (which is actually “listening to God”) involves letting go – releasing our tight grip on things in the mind. Which include all those things we think we must hold onto so tightly because they determine our “value” and “worth” in God’s eyes. Meditation can help loosen our grip on these things. It helps us become familiar with the sensation of release. At first, it feels like falling, to loosen our grip and simple open ourselves up to “being” in the presence of God. But once we have befriended it, once we have learned to relax with it, it feels good to let go. Letting go is another form of sameness. Our private opinions and judgments no longer create a division between us and God or the person to whom we are sincerely seeking to listen. We simply join with their experience. We become one and the same.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida