Listening: Revolutionary Love | October 8, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
To a certain degree, our entire future may depend on learning to listen,
listen without assumptions or defenses.
- Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown
Upon returning from attending the memorial service for Father Louis “Louie” Vitale, I drove to my bank to make a deposit. As usual, the friendly teller greeted me and asked into which account he should deposit the checks. I answered checking. He scanned the checks and asked again as usual into which account should he deposit. Again, I answered checking. I was lucky. Often, he asks three times and I respond three times. I have thought of saying to him and other tellers who do the same thing: “Listen to my answer. Record it in your brain so that you don’t have to repeat the question.” Perhaps, the next time I will summon courage enough to invite him to the revolution, the revolution of hearing.
Adrienne maree brown invites us to incorporate the transforming and transcendent nature of listening into our lives. There is much truth within her statement. Without question one of the most fundamental impediments to human communication is our inability to really listen to others. This impediment leads to misunderstanding, disrespect, antagonism, and war. Frequently, we cut the other off, thinking we know what the person is going to say. We often judge what the other is saying as though we were in some competition, something we have been socialized to believe is normal.
Listening can be dangerous. It may cause us to abandon dogmas and presuppositions that have long comforted our days and shielded us from our true selves. Listening to the cry of the earth led Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers to each other and a communal and international quest to heal Mother Earth. They heard her cry: a cry of pain, torture, and abandonment of a sacred relationship with her human relatives.
If we would only quiet ourselves on a regular basis, the cries of the graves would come to us. The cries of the living would come to us, not only the cries of the dispossessed, discarded, those on the edges but also the cries of those who think themselves into believing that they are in the center. We would hear the cry from the future imploring us to prepare a future more compassionate, loving, and just than the present. brown continues:
I am listening now with all of my senses as if the whole universe might exist just to teach me more about love… I notice the more I pay attention, the more I see order, clear messages, patterns, and invitations in the small or seemingly random things that happen in my life.
Dr. Howard Thurman prayed:
Give me the listening ear. I seek this day the ear that will not shrink from the word that challenges me to deeper consecration and higher resolve – the word that lays bare needs that make my own days uneasy, that seizes upon every good decent impulse of my nature, channeling it into paths of healing in the lives of others.
Listening and love are connected. I doubt if one can love without listening. Dr. Thurman’s small book, Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness, holds wisdom far beyond its covers. He shares a conversation between Jesus and Peter that is enlightening. Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Peter answered that Jesus knew that he loved him. Jesus then responded with the instruction: Feed my sheep. “The word Jesus uses for love is strong, dynamic, carrying with it the idea of reverential understanding and intelligent commitment.” Peter responded with a weak word for love. Jesus asked the same question three times and Peter answered with the same word three times. However, the third time Jesus used the weak term for love. Peter was disappointed because it meant that Jesus had lowered his expectations of and confidence in Peter.
This scripture was used at the memorial service for Father Louis Vitale this past Friday. Fr. Louie heard the strong word for love from Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi and fed the sheep, the people under his care, meaning all people. The San Francisco Chronicle celebrated him with these words.
In his weekly homily, Father Louie Vitale could not contain himself when he looked out
upon his flock of the poor and distraught at St. Boniface Catholic Church in the Tenderloin.
He’d smile and raise his hands and say, “It is just about love, all about love” to his
audience, some of whom would be lying down in the pews asleep. These were his
“brothers and sisters,” and he spoke to them in English at the 8 a.m. sermon, and in
Spanish at 10 a.m.
If Vitale did not have his hands outstretched in a gesture of giving, they were usually
behind his back being cuffed. True to his Franciscan spirituality, Vitale proved his love for all mankind by participating in acts of nonviolence and demonstrations for peace. He
claimed to have been arrested some 400 times.
Most of his legal trouble came through his position as co-founder of the Nevada Desert
Experience, which pressured the government to end nuclear weapons testing. Closer to
home, he founded the Gubbio Project, which made St. Boniface the first church in
America to let homeless men and women sleep in its pews during daytime.
Fr. Louie was dedicated to disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons. Those attending the service chuckled when the Blue Angels with their dreadfully horrifying invasion of the senses flew over the church just as one of the speakers mentioned his abhorrence to anything that supported the nation’s military prowess. Fr. Louie would have enjoyed that. Always a sense of playful joy exuded from him. It blessed our work together as members of the Steering Committee of Religious Witness with Homeless People under the leadership of Sr. Bernie Galvin.
Leonardo Boff’s Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor added commitment to the natural environment to the resolve to address the needs of poor and subjugated peoples. There was an essential connection between environmental exploitation and human exploitation. His work deals with hearing and responding to the cries of the exploited, including the earth. Developing an eco/theological synthesis, he believed that:
Liberation theology and ecological discourse have something in common: they start from two bleeding wounds. The wound of poverty breaks the social fabric of millions and millions of poor people around the world. The other wound, systematic assault on the Earth, breaks down the balance of the planet, which is under threat from the plundering of development as practiced by contemporary global societies. Both lines of reflection and practice have as their starting point a cry: the cry of the poor for life, freedom, and beauty … and the cry of the Earth groaning under oppression.
The same consciousness that drives the powerful to “chronically crush” humans is the same mindset that plunders the Earth.
Returning to adrienne maree brown:
When we are engaged in acts of love, we humans are at our best and most resilient. The love in romance that makes us want to be better people, the love of children that makes us change our whole lives to meet their needs, the love of family that makes us drop everything to take care of them, the love of community that makes us work tirelessly with broken hearts.
Perhaps humans’ core function is love. Love leads us to observe in a much deeper way than any other emotion....
If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders, it would have a massive impact… If the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression. We would suddenly be seeing everything we do, everyone we meet, not through the tactical eyes of war, but through eyes of love.
There is much that I have learned from Derek Lin, Taoist scholar and practitioner. Think about what he says in The Tao of Joy Every Day.
There is an essence that embodies the universe and yet exists beyond space and time. It is infinitely ancient because it is eternal. In comparison to this, the universe’s age of fourteen billion years is nothing. . ..
Meditate upon the essence as our truest nature and call it by its original name: love. The essence is no more or less than the energy of love in its purest form. Human beings are simply the solidified manifestation of this energy. That is why it is so important to us, and why we can never be without it. Embrace the essence, for it is the reason for existence itself, and the reason we exist at all.