Entering the monastery there is a sense of stepping outside of the line of time — real-time. You have entered into kairos . God time, as Eugene Peterson calls it.
The people I encountered at the Holy Wisdom monastery were kind. You couldn’t tell who was who. They may play a role in the running of the monastery. You don’t know. I shook hands with a middle-aged woman with short salt and pepper hair, in a pristine suit, who did not give me her name, even when I gave her mine. I found it odd and I learned later from my mother that she’s the boss of the place. The Holy Mother? Not being too familiar with the Benedictine traditions, I simply smiled when she did not give her name. I am a “go with the flow” kind of person, but I’ll admit it felt strange.
When you enroll, you are asked your goals or intent for coming. Oh dear, “my mother invited me” isn’t quite right. Reading the luncheon topics is what convinced me to attend; today’s was Bearing with One Another. Next week’s will be Stability and Balance in Relationships and Prayer. It will be five weeks in all during Lent. “Creating space to listen” was my final goal, scribbled quickly on the form, wondering what God might do if I was quiet for that long—listening for him.
I find life is so full of learning of late, that I don’t even have time to apply. That’s nuts. Church attendance, doing, and serving – well, it’s all meaningless if we cannot, do not take in what we’re learning and be transformed by it.
Nevertheless what I heard today could very well change me forever, if I allow it.
Recently I was the recipient of some soul care, which served to do a work of healing in my life that profoundly changed me. A good woman, she is a healing servant by night and doing servant by day. Efficient and skilled though she is in her day-to-day life, she took several hours to listen to me, unknowingly being a part of a life-giving healing.
I brought years of pain, bitterness, misunderstanding, dejection, feelings of rejection and being disregarded. I felt so much pain that when I started to talk I began to weep. Not simple crying mind you.
This was the aching heart of a person stuck in sin.
I couldn’t speak, often. Unperturbed, she listened. She didn’t touch me. She didn’t pray. She didn’t say much of anything, though she had some words to encourage – breathing out with kindheartedness and veracity, both of my sin and of my giftedness. Of my culpability and the tragedy of it all. And as I spoke I knew.
This was a holy moment. We were not alone. This was kairos time. She attended to me and as she did calcified thoughts and feelings came unstuck and God knows how long I’ve carried this pain, some of it over a decade; it began to wash away. It was holy. It was sacred. Monumental. Transformational.
Over and done, by listening.
I learned today this type of listening is called kenotic listening. It is characterized by reverencing what is sacred in someone else. So often, when interacting with each other, we dwell on all their faults. Their failings, their annoying bits and pieces, even how they disappoint us or let us down. A kenotic listener affirms the good in others.
- Letting go of expectations that are likely unrealistic or self-serving.
- Letting go of trying to change another person’s behavior.
- Letting go of the desire to control outcomes or choices.
- Choosing not to criticize.
- Letting go of judging or negativity.
- Letting go of your reluctance to forgive another.
Kenotic listening means giving up our desire to be heard, to pay attention to what the other person needs to say. Creating space for them to speak. Suppressing the urge to jump in with advice or simply interrupt with a differing opinion, or to argue our point. It means being less focused on yourself and what you next want to say. Opening your spirit to what the other person needs and wants.
Taking on patience as a way of life, which is the only way to bear some else’s burden. Yes people are temperamental, argumentative, self-righteous, rude and obnoxious, even stupid sometimes. But we are called to bear with them. Yes, some people can be mean-spirited, arrogant, close minded and selfish. We care called to bear with them. Yes, some people make inconvenient demands on us, yet we are called to bear with them. Some people can be hard to get along with, and yet we are called to bear with them.
Phylo of Alexandria is quoted saying “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a huge battle.”
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it from you. What seems like conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” – Miller Williams
This is it.
I had a festering sore, down deep inside where the spirit meets the bone. I didn’t know how to heal myself. I didn’t always want to heal.
I talked. She listened. It was a sacred holy moment where true church happened – ekklesia.
Spiritually, emotionally and physically I will never be the same.
It was a holy moment, where time was pregnant with what the Holy One intended. I shared all the ugliness of my inner most soul and with no guilt or religiosity, I was loved.
These are thoughts inspired by Trisha Day who spoke at the monastery yesterday. She gave me a name for what happened to me and offered a challenge to be that sort of person – a kenotic listener. To revere what is sacred in others, to know they are fighting a huge battle, often alone. Seek to build up not tear down. Ask myself how I react to others thoughts and ideas? Am I respectful? Do I allow others to annoy me? Do I affirm what is good in them?
Kenosis means an emptying of me, giving up more than getting, and letting go of the need to be heard. Listen well and deeply. Stop myself from offering “sage” wisdom or advice, from jumping in.
Have compassion with everyone you meet.
It’s a high calling; a holy challenge for everyone is suffering in some way, life brings challenge and pain, sometimes unbearable pain.
We can blast. Ignore. Correct. Challenge.
Or we can embrace a holier moment, a holier calling of acceptance, endurance and trust.
Trisha Day is a member of Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monetary, a Lay Cistercian associated with New Melleray and Mississippi Abbeys near Dubuque, Iowa. She is the author of Inside the School of Charity –Lessons from the monastery.