Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Choosing to Hear

I told her I would be there around nine.

"Don't even worry about it," she said. "I'll be here. Don't rush."

It was a few minutes after 9:30 when we settled into the corner table with coffee cups and after 1:00 when we finally stood up to leave. At some point, the coffee shop had emptied out and I smelled chocolate chips baking. Not long after, it filled again with people huddling in clusters with bowls of soup. My stomach wasn't even growling.

Ray crossed my mind a time or two. I run into him often - downtown, at church, in my dining room. But not today.

She's a new friend, and the lucky recipient of all my angst. She speaks my language. She understands. So I bare it all, a rush of questions and commentary. When we finally wrenched ourselves away from the pressing conversation, I had a tension headache creeping up from my jaw. My shoulders ached. This happens now and then, almost always when I'm neck deep in words, almost always when I'm enjoying the sweet relief of meaningful conversation.

It's confusing, the way my body interprets relief as stress.

For the rest of the afternoon, I reminded myself that though we lingered much longer than planned, it was time well spent. Vital, even, though I couldn't articulate why. I searched the sky and scanned the perimeter of my afternoon, this Paying Attention project not far from my mind.

It is possible to search too hard. Only day two, and nothing jumped out at me.

Driving home from the grocery store, racing to beat the end-of-day bell at the elementary school, I passed a woman swinging wildly on a make-shift porch swing right up near the busy street. I've seen her there before. But today, her shirt was made entirely of sequins. Her smile was so wide, I noticed she didn't have teeth. She pushed off against the scrubby ground, the grass long worn away, and kicked her feet into the air like a school girl.

The train whistle blew. July's sun sank into my skin under an October sky.

Later, just as we were forming ground beef into patties and grating garlic for oven fries, the doorbell rang. Another friend, unexpectedly at our door. It wasn't Ray. It wasn't a neighbor. It wasn't anyone who needed anything from us.

He stood at the island and we chatted for a while, then he followed Cory out to the grill. Just before I snapped their picture, I heard words like, "sanctification" and "discipleship". They know the same people. They care about the same things. They were equally concerned by the news that Ray had been arrested the previous night; both sick to death of this story, where people trying to find their way out of the dark keep getting shoved back in, often unfairly.

Jesus says, "Pay close attention to what you hear" (Mark 4:24) For the past year or two, I've done this with fierce determination. I've leaned in, scooted closer, listened closely to the crickets chirping under a cloudy morning sky and my kids coughing up in their beds. I have fought to learn from people I resisted seeing as teachers. I have kept time to the lyric of oppression. I've pulled up a chair to hard stories around me and let my words be few. I've passed the mic. I've sat in the way-back, quietly listening

This is the way of Jesus, I am sure of it. Listening isn't meant for just a season. I want to memorize the song of my one long life and hear Jesus in its tune.

But somewhere along the way, over the past five years, I have learned to tell my stories only here through my fingers, not so much with my voice. Somehow, I have come to believe the "drama" infusing our every day, the pain and the tension and maybe even the funny stuff, isn't fit for conversation. I have watched people grow wary, annoyed, bored. I have noticed the way they stopped asking questions. I have learned to endure small talk.

It was well after the sun had set that the pieces fit. Listening is a two-way street. Jesus interacted with his world by paying close attention to what he heard, yes. But he also had things to say. And though his words weren't always as happy and light as folks may have wanted, they were necessary. They were true. They were real.

Tomorrow will likely tell another story, but maybe today you won't find God in what you hear. Maybe you'll find him in who chooses to hear you, right when you need it most.