Free Listening

Change minds. Change hearts. Change actions.

During a week when many people are snapping their annual first day of school photos, another photo is seared into my heart’s eye. The headline? “Shooting of Jacob Blake reenergizes nationwide protests over police brutality.”

I want to know how to end white supremacy and stop the violence.

One conclusion I’ve reached is this. We–and in particular we white people–need to listen in a way we have never listened before. We need to listen to ourselves–to the biases and assumptions we carry into our everyday lives and to the voices of grace, love, peace, and justice within ourselves that we have neglected or ignored. More than that, we need to listen to the voices of those marginalized by white supremacy, muted by oppressive power dynamics, ignored by economic realities, and silenced by gunshots.

Seeing God’s glory

Jacob Blake was shot multiple times in the back. When I heard this story, I thought about the Exodus story where Moses asks to see God’s glory. God responds:

21And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

Exodus 33

God only reveals God’s self to Moses by allowing Moses to see God’s back.

I hear in this story God’s prophetic call across the years to us today. God’s presence comes to us in ways we fail to hear, see, or imagine–even in another’s back–and face and hands, feet, and arms. If our first thought in encountering another person were that their bodies hold God’s glory, then perhaps…

Perhaps the pause that thought causes would be pause enough for us to change our minds, change our hearts, change our actions. And perhaps in the pause, we would listen and hear each other and the Spirit of God.

A few years ago at a protest in Charlotte, a clergy person on the frontlines of the protest was photographed carrying a sign. It said, “Free Listening.” We need to hear and see and care for each other and in particular for our communities’ most at risk others.

Free Listening

We can keep our distance
watch
observe
gaze
perhaps even be moved.
But if we want to be changed
reconcile
heal
stop the violence
of “shots fired” one more time?

You can’t know what story
the shell longs to tell of the sea
without holding it your ear.
And what of pulses that slow
as life flows out into uncaring streets
or hearts bruised and broken
that still flutter for justice?
Some truths whisper,
quiet as breath.
To hear them,
we must lean in close
and listen.
For free.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Author: Jill Crainshaw

I am a professor at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and an ordained PCUSA minister.

2 thoughts on “Free Listening”

  1. I am in tears this morning reading this beautiful text. What moved me most was, ” If our first thought in encountering another person were that their bodies hold God’s glory, then perhaps….” . If we all love God, we should love the Imago Dei that lives in all of God’s creation. Thank you for your strong and powerful words!
    MLM

    Like

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