Listening in Tongues

We need to learn to listen in tongues – to really listen to each other, to all of Creation, and to the Divine Other – to listen in ways that open us to fuller understanding, empathy, and authentic relationship.

In our individual spiritual journeys, as seekers (and sometime finders) of greater clarity and understanding, it is normal and healthy to be searching continually for the right words, images, and metaphors for the Truth we encounter. Only as we discover the language that authentically reflects our own inner experience can we hope to share that experience with one another, or to apply that experience to the challenges of living authentically in this broken, suffering, yet somehow blessed Creation. It often seems the result of this effort is a new, unique and personal language that clearly expresses what we have felt and known to be true, and yet is unintelligible to others without a concerted effort at interpretation. Yet to share authentically, we each must use the language and metaphors that are authentic to us.

As Friends, we must close the circle – we must learn to listen in tongues. Rather than insisting that the other person interpret their experience into the words and metaphors that we find most meaningful and accurate, we as auditory must learn to allow the Holy Spirit (by whatever word or metaphor we use) to do the interpreting on our behalf. If we will allow ourselves to settle into that inner stillness that accompanies our waiting worship, we can begin to hear not the words and metaphors of the other person, but the Truth behind the words and metaphors. We can begin to “love to feel where the words come from,” as Papunehang said to John Woolman. When we listen in this way, we begin to feel everything we have in common as creations of a loving God in a broken but blessed Creation, rather than being distracted by the different vocabularies we use in our attempts to describe an experience that is beyond adequate description.

We must learn to listen in tongues. That is the path that enables us to better support one another in our spiritual lives, to model in our meetings true shalom, and to work together to do the work God invites us to share, to heal the world.

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the apprentice authors, and not official statements of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) of the Religious Society of Friends.)

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