Widening Space with Others
by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries
I believe that Spirit is seeking incarnation in every person I encounter. No one is outside the scope of God’s unfathomably wide love and grace. This Advent season, we open our hearts, preparing to receive Christ in and through one another.
“We can change the world if we just start listening to one another again.”
–Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another
There is nothing like the full presence of another person, undistracted and completely available. I am always grateful when I encounter those people who can make me feel as though they have nothing more important to do than listen thoroughly to what I most need to say. Imagine if we could hold this quality of space for one another more often. Imagine if, even in our disagreements, we could pause the rise of opinions and rebuttals to listen instead with curiosity, compassion, and availability. What if we truly desired to hear one another’s stories, to understand one another’s life experiences, to listen with courage into each other’s fears until they dissolve into love?
Of course, there are complexities. Some level of mutuality is required for conversation to move into these depths. And yet, I believe it is worth the risk. The hunger for human connection is as strong as it has ever been. I still believe that taking the time to honor (or restore) the worth of another by offering my full presence and attention can transform and heal. I even believe I can be transformed and healed if I can find the courage to reciprocate vulnerability when the space is opened to me.
REALLY SEE THE SACRED OTHER.
“… encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get– in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing– which is where God’s beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.” –Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in The World
The need for a quick lunch prompted a stop at Taco Bell. My inner state was the opposite of receptive. I was anxious, hurried, frustrated, and impatient. It was the clank of a coin on the counter that interrupted my self-absorption and suddenly sharpened my attention to my surroundings. The cashier was opening a new roll of coins when they slipped from her hand and spilled out on the counter and the floor. I noticed the look of panic in her eyes as she rushed to pick them up while the line lengthened.
My heart burst open with compassion and I truly saw her for the first time even though she had taken my order just minutes before. This humanizing accident humbled me into curiosity. I wondered what her life was like and what was on her heart as she rushed to pick up the coins and resume the orders. As the minutes passed, time slowed down while my heart expanded. When my number was called, I caught her eye and said, thank you. I hope she felt that she was really seen.
I confess that I often move through the world in this hurried way and miss seeing the people right before me. I turn others into characters in my own life story or obstacles on my path. It is easier to live in frustration, fear, or misunderstanding when we don’t slow down enough to recognize our shared humanity. Our capacity for recognizing the divine life in another is directly related to our capacity for seeing that person as they really are. This is the sacred relational space in which Christ becomes incarnate.
“A deep place in the other reaches out toward a deep place in you, hoping for a connection. Their heart calls to yours, and when you’re at your listening best, you heart responds, ‘I am here.’ Listening with your heart invites you to stay open to another even if their feelings are much different from yours, even if the expression of those feelings is stronger than you expect. In doing so, you heart will lead you to encounters with your own wholeness too.” –James E. Miller, The Art of Listening in Healing Way
I am friends with a person on Facebook with whom I often disagree. Almost every post I see makes me cringe. I will confess to wrestling with the temptation to “unfollow” this person so that I don’t have to be confronted with what makes me uncomfortable. Instead, I remember when we had an opportunity to listen deeply to each other’s stories. My heart stays open with love for this person because we shared a profound and unexpected experience of sacred connection beneath our politics and opinions.
I believe words have power– that they can be devastating and degrading, costly and consequential. The same can be true of reducing people to words that only ever express a portion of who they are. (It is also important to acknowledge that there are truly toxic and destructive relationships that require hard choices about how to honor our own and other’s worth.) It takes great courage to stay open to one another. My hope is that others stay open to me too, trusting that there is always more to me than what they see on the surface. This Advent, I yearn to recover trust in the basic goodness of other people, the divine life present in each one, and the redemption that is still possible for us all. This is the essential starting place for the important conversations we need to have to make whole a broken world.
What does it look like to widen the space to receive the Sacred Other in your life? What might it feel like to be received into a space wide enough for you? Where are the deep places in others reaching out toward the deep places in you this Advent season?