Most weeks as I prepare to send out our newsletter, I start by looking through picture after picture on the internet – often for a very long period of time. I may or may not have a sense of what I will be sharing, I just look at pictures. Even when I do have a sense of what will be shared in the newsletter, my thoughts don’t fully gel till I find a photo that mysteriously informs me (for the most part I use pics from creative commons or public domain).

At first I passed over this picture of a ferris wheel. Yet I kept going back to it. The fact that it is softly lit and blurry is both a bit uncomfortable yet… somehow intriguing.

Uncomfortable. We often listen to stories that are uncomfortable, sometimes the people we listen to are uncomfortable either from the weather or emotional pain or physical distress. Sometimes they are uncomfortable being heard, as they have grown used to the opposite.

Some people may be uncomfortable with political unrest, some with dread, some with feeling disenfranchised. When we sit with another as their listener, we listen to all of it. We don’t judge. We are present for uncomfortable stories in uncomfortable times with a compassionate heart.

I often call worldly affairs “The Carnival.” I will admit it can come off as dismissive, particularly during challenging times. But I don’t mean it as a criticism – after all, carnivals are meant to be fun! There is something I am pointing to by calling worldly affairs “The Carnival,” and that is to say that some times we take only certain things to be important and overlook all other matters without question. This is a kind of blindness which can leave us wandering in a carnival thinking it is the whole of life.

Listening is counter-cultural – it is outside of The Carnival. In 2016 we practiced listening to people we don’t agree with as well as listening to people we do agree with – all while watching for our own triggers around opinions (yes, I’m speaking about political opinions) and doing our utmost best to stay in deep listening.

Listening can soften both the listener and the one being listened to. Which brings me back to the picture. I am intrigued by the blur of the image, how soft it is. Initially I bypassed this image as I took it to be too blurry. I kept wanting it to be just a tiny bit more focused.

And that desire for the image to be different… intrigued me. It is exactly what we don’t do when listening. We listen without wanting our guest to be different than they are. This is another way of saying we listen with compassion. Compassion does not desire another to change. This is paradoxical as we find ourselves feeling compassionate when someone is suffering or struggling. Of course we do not want anyone to suffer, but we don’t put our own wants on them either.

I cannot explain away the paradox. I will leave it a bit blurry. I will encourage us to be present with things we can’t explain, with suffering we cannot control, with uncertainty and discomfort which leaves things looking a bit blurry or out of focus. And I will encourage us to listen and be softened in the process.

on behalf of Marcia and myself,
all our gratitude,