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Is that you, God? It’s me, Wendy

Merlin, the Cornell Lab Bird ID App makes every walk better. Instead of listening to the constant chatter inside my brain, it has me attending to the bird song all around me. At the push of a button, I am recording and the app (and I) are listening, patiently. We wait and wonder together until, like magic, the app produces images of the bird who is singing and calling to me. Or perhaps several suggestions of who it might be. It’s not always sure, but it usually designates a “most likely” candidate.

How cool, I got to wondering, would it be if I had a God ID App. You know, point and record, and my phone tells me whether what I am listening to is God.

Wow. That is rich. Would my phone explode with God-sightings? Yeah, that one and that one, too and that over there and… OR, would I, after waiting a good long while eagerly anticipating the undeniable God-moment, give up in frustration when my App wasn’t able to definitively conclude that God was within hearing. A still small voice is, after all, a very difficult thing to hear. Not sure we can rely on technology to detect it.

Still smiling, I move along the meandering path, phone recorder at the ready. I do not hurry. I am listening. Along the way I greet the dog walkers I pass with what is probably a little more enthusiasm than is called for. The pups seemed especially glad to see me. I excuse myself when, in my attention to the App, I veer a little more on their side than is allowed.

Then, I hear the perfect bird. It’s singing solo up in the branches to my left. I point my phone in its direction, punch up the recording and wait. Northern Mockingbird, it tells me. Wait, it also might be a Brown Thrasher.

Then I see it. Perfectly illuminated in the dense green of the tree. Unmistakable. RED. It’s a male cardinal. I look and listen. I can see the sounds coming from its beak. Its partner flies in to greet it. Female cardinal for sure. Merlin App, you have failed.

Wow. Wonder if I can trust this App at all. Maybe it’s been messing with me all along.

So much for that God App idea. Clearly, these human-made versions are only so good. But, still, there is something about the walking while not hurrying, the listening, the expectation, even the waiting… that all felt pretty darn good. Sort of like an inward glow of positivity. Hopeful. Friendly. Constructive. Creative. Maybe there’s something to this.

Perhaps I don’t need an App at all. Maybe I have all I need, not at my fingertips, but at my disposal. If I wander and listen and wait patiently, love will show up.

I wonder what those dogs saw in me.

One Table, Many Chairs

banquet tableSomething special happens when we insist on one table with everyone around it. Oh, we may not like everyone there. We may not have seen them in years. We may not even recognize them. But, when the first rule of gathering is that everyone gets a seat at the table, the dynamic changes.

It seems that rule #1 has gone missing. We feel just fine with one head table and a banquet hall filled with rounders of 10. Or, let’s just scrap the head table sit with our friends around a 6-seater or a 4-top. Why not a deuce?  Hey, we’re completely happy with our laptop and our tall latte at the table for one as long as there’s an outlet. As long as I can plug into “my community” and access all the wisdom the world has to offer, I’m good.

This is the direction we’re headed and we’re good with it. Our private truth feels fine. And that’s fine until we are confronted with different: different looks, different ways, different beliefs. Nothing wrong with different, we say, take that seat over there. Way over there.

Separate but equal, that seems fair. Just like it did when segregation seemed fair. And, in practice, people thought it made sense, until it didn’t.

What’s wrong with each one having a seat and a table to himself is that it doesn’t cause us to squirm. It doesn’t require us to listen to the difference, consider the different, and frame our response in respect to the one who differs. We dearly need rule #1: there is one table.

As soon as separation is an option, it’s an out. A reason to pack up our differences and find people who agree with us. In our own clusters we can justify our actions and find support for our opinions. We may work up a sweat and convince ourselves this is the work we are meant to do, this holding the line against those who would invade from that other table across the room.

But it’s hard to hear across the distance. And in the rabble of a million voices, each speaking his truth, where can we find a common language?

There’s only one way I know: One Table, everyone around it, no exceptions.

Yep, it will be nearly impossible to find union there, and the struggle to find a unified voice will nearly kill us. But it’s the presence of the opposition, not its absence, that force us to find it — faith, word, answer, method — a way forward that includes EVERYONE around the table.

One Table with as many chairs as there are people who seek a seat. One microphone and one scribe. When we love, we listen.

It would nearly kill us all. But out of that near death experience what life!

Are there layers to listening?

Folks today listen fast. We have to. We have information coming at us from all directions at rapid fire pace. Young people are unfazed by this. They’ve grown up with it and seem to have perfected the technique.

The young woman at the register was completely amazing. I approached her to exchange a pair of shoes. In the next 90 seconds she:

  • scanned in my receipt
  • checked her computer for stock availability
  • found it in the size in another color
  • pulled up that color and described it to me

Then:

  • responded to the caller on her headset
  • asked if she’d like them to hold those for her
  • wrote up a slip

Then:

  • responded to the woman bringing 2 large boxes about where to put them
  • put the slip with these boxes

Then, she looked back at me.

Nearly, speechless, I asked if she’d hold my shoes while I went to look at what they had available. I had no doubt that my shoes would be waiting when I returned. This woman was astounding.

And I tell her story this way, in bullet points, because I must. It’s how we read and how we hear — these days. Our lives are filled with distraction and diversion, but we manage to take it all in. Just enough of it to get the idea, because that’s all we have time for. Funny, diversion used to be such a good thing. It was something that rescued us from our monotony and lifted us to the sublime, the humorous or at least the entertaining. Now, it’s standard. Comes on the basic model.

What, then, of us “contemplatives?” And I don’t mean monks or hermits or cloistered religious folk, but people who tend to cogitate and reflect by nature. Are we being shallowed, too? Perhaps, we, like the Universe, are slowly moving away from our center. Not exploded by the force of the Big Bang but drawn outward by a magnetic force.

I was struck by this definition of contemplative prayer offered by the Shalem Institute:

“Deep listening in the silence.”

If I am always operating at the surface, what is in the deep?

I drew 3 concentric circles in my journal and stood by to see what emerged. The surface was very easy to populate with words: shallow, listen up, easy to wake, distraction, diverge, snapshot, wander. Surprised myself with: productive and superconcious.

But these words did not emerge alone. They came in 3’s, partnered with under words and yet deeper words. Underneath were: dig, delve, order, explain, reason, data, apply, converge. Surprises: wonder and hypothesis. Perhaps those are borderline to the deeper words like: discover, uncover, naked, appreciate, adept, perspective, see, tiptoe. That was the place of deep listening.

How’d a kinesthetic get there? By one smooth, clear, baptismal stone. It was a gift from the folks at SOULfeast during one of their worship services. I like it because it’s surface feels right to my fingers. Somehow it clarifies my thoughts.

When I was finished writing words, I set it down on a word. I was surprised to see that it acted as a magnifier. The word it magnified was “subconcious.” Near it I had written, “How do you know that?”

photo 2 (2)-005

Amazing the power of one smooth, clear stone.

Up close. That’s what it said. From a distance, this small stone looked like a drop of water, beaded up from the page.

How can I magnify my listening from a distance? I can’t, but God can. No matter how far I pull away, I am still in connection with the center that holds me.

How do I know that? I have seen it.

Even when I can’t see it, I can feel it.

It spells itself out for me. Imagine that… just for me. Magnificent!

 

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