Let There Be Light
Sometimes I like using headphones to listen to music as I go about my business around town. I’ve also found myself plugged in while gardening or cleaning or whatever else. The technology that affords one such a luxury is downright amazing to someone whose first radio was a little red plastic gizmo that, if clipped to any metal object, would faintly pick up a couple of AM radio stations.
It wasn’t too long ago when a friend and I were sitting in a public place and saw some joggers go by. He began berating “all those people who exercise with earphones on so they can’t hear anybody anymore.” I think I know what he was complaining about and why. And I stand convicted.
While I was considering performing a risk-benefit analysis of the questionable headphone behavior of myself and others, I read an article in which writer and theologian Rodney Clapp recounted a story about his grandmother. Clapp said his Grandma Adams had become more and more hard of hearing over the years, and this was happening to her at about the same time her longtime companion, Bob, was becoming nearly blind.
As Grandma and Bob sat in a restaurant one evening, Clapp related, a man approached the table acting like an old friend and stood talking to them for several long minutes. Grandma and Bob nodded and smiled appropriately the entire time.
When the man said his goodbyes and left the restaurant, Bob asked, “Who was that man?” And Grandma answered, “I don’t know. What did he say?”
Physical challenges notwithstanding, being able to truly listen to another person seems a talent in short supply these days. When was the last time you felt listened to, and like you’d really been heard? In the story, Grandma Adams had an obvious hearing issue rather than a listening issue –in Clapp’s account, she sounds as though she may have been a great listener in her own way, even with a diminished capacity to hear.
Of course those of us who retain some level of the gift of sight put great stock in the ability to see as well, and rightly so. But even in our creation myths, sound comes before sight. “In the beginning,” say the first words of the first book of the Jewish and Christian texts, “God created the heaven and the earth. And God said, Let there be light.” In that seminal text, light - the ability to see - comes only after the sound of God’s voice.
It’s been a long and difficult election season. Words have not been in short supply: lots of them have been thrown around, seemingly at times without much thought attached. But with so many words bandied about, there sure hasn’t been much listening going on.
Perhaps setting aside our headphones and listening to each other more deeply could shed a little light and help us learn to see each other better as well.