In class we talked about our speech, and others’. “When you focus on other people, it’s easier to see how wrong they are.” That’s how demagogues operate. But we realize that it goes for us, too – when we focus on other people, it’s easy to see how wrong they are – when they clash with our understanding of what’s right. So, how do we balance the need to speak out against the things we have to be against with the need to speak the truth in love? Because on principle, because of what we’ve learned in Scripture and at church and in our families about how to be decent human beings, it seems we do need to speak out against mean-spirited or unkind or nasty statements and acts. Surely there are some things we are called upon to oppose. And we recognize mean-spirited or unkind or nasty statements and acts in part by the effects they have on us: they spark a reaction in us, of shock or outrage or rejection. And that shock, outrage or rejection tends to attach to the speaker or actor. It’s hard for us to keep that from happening, especially since we know from our own experience that “ out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We know “there’s more where that came from.” We have some thoughts, but we haven’t solved this problem.
In church we were invited to think about “the glory” of God – in Hebrew, a word that is associated with something like heaviness or weightiness, something that we would feel, not just see. Invited to think about what it might look like if we were to try to represent that or recreate that in worship, or in human terms … maybe that is what people do when they drum, until people can feel that pounding in their chests … or giant choirs, or massive pipe organs … or what if all our senses were involved, touch and smell and taste as well as hearing and sight … [and I get that our pastor was thinking of the glory of God as being intrinsically positive, or anyway, not intrinsically negative, but I couldn’t help thinking of earthquakes I’ve felt, and of nuclear explosions, and then it suddenly made complete sense that the ancient authors of Scripture have so many terrifying and destructive images of divine power … because even if God is Love, God is still … glorious, and we humans are probably not well-equipped to encounter God in glorious mode without it feeling … harmful].
And then, sometimes we might get at the glory of God the other way round, not by emulating things loud and impressive, but rather with silence and stillness … maybe for instance the candle-lit silence of Christmas Eve … listening, like the instruction to Peter on the mount of Transfiguration … such that the “busy-ness” of a lot of church life maybe gives us a sense of security and normality so that we don’t have to pay attention to that glorious mystery … maybe. We were invited to consider the possibility that sometimes people come to church looking for, hoping to experience, that glory. So, how does that happen? Perhaps that happens, sometimes, in simply being together and listening to one another … [I think this had something to do with the church’s Cajun Dinner of the night before, which involved us being together and doing a lot of cooking and dishing up food for people and raising money for the local food pantry but also a lot of people sitting in the multi-purpose room that was fairly covered with Mardi Gras images and being together over especially good jambalaya this year … I’m not sure, because I missed the end, I think because I was remembering that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive.” But I think that might actually have been the main point, just in different words.]
So how much listening does “humanity fully alive” take? I think I am a lot better at listening than a three-year-old Sunday school student who can bounce from story time to coloring to dancing to cooking with play food in the span of 10 minutes. But perhaps, compared to the kind of listening that “fully alive” requires, especially to other people, or to God, I am that distractible. This seems possible. Or, likely. Maybe I have to keep quiet more often, just so I can follow the instructions: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him.”