Listening, Being Bold, and Looking for the Divine in Everyone, by Nancy Marstaller

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, November 11, 2018

I want to share some thoughts about listening, being bold, and looking for the Divine in everyone. I’ll open by reading Dwight Wilson’s psalm 13 in Modern Psalms in Search of Peace and Justice.

For most, it would be easiest

to see You perform

solo on the universal stage

while we sit in the audience, eating popcorn.

That is not the design.

We are in this love together;

You as Spirit Prodding,

we as physical beings charged

with improving unfinished work.

We seek to perfect Your creation.

With wars and terrorist attacks

all across the globe,

and hatred running rampant,

apathy is not a choice.

We must act, or close the road

to our descendants’ survival.

Through Your call to love

You bring an arsenal of compassion.

Help us sing in tune,

spiritually rising to conquer evil,

fortifying the world

with our unwavering love.

Being a better listener has been one of my life goals. I have to work really hard at it, because I know that my attention is easily distracted. If a speaker says something that reminds me of something else, my mind can go off on a tangent about that instead of staying focused on what the speaker is actually saying. If you mention birds or ducks for example, I might start thinking about the antics of our ducks or what birds I am seeing at the feeder. I have developed strategies to help me maintain focus, like taking notes or doodling or maintaining eye contact, and use these when I can.

I’ve never been a bold person. I look around and see and hear the problems and needs of the world. I worry and wish others would do something. Every year at yearly meeting sessions I hear about great work that Friends are doing, with immigrants, with prison reform, and with many other issues. It’s always very humbling. I admire people like Wendy taking action on environmental problems. Oh, I do little things that I hope help the world, but don’t step into bold action myself. So lately I’ve been praying and meditating on how I can be bolder to help this world be a better place.

A couple weeks ago I went to one of the Makeshift Coffeehouses that Craig organizes. I’d hoped to have my husband, or a friend go with me but ended up going alone. This was definitely out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t even feel I could take my doodling supplies with me. I’d have to rely on my interest and care for others to stay focused.

The theme of the coffee house was why we vote the way we do. I WAS really interested to hear what people said. I truly don’t understand why many people believe the way they do and vote the way they do. I truly wanted to know as I have been especially discouraged about this country’s heated and angry political rhetoric and how people are swayed by it- myself included. But I have been shy and hesitant to talk with others about politics if I know they are on the “other” side of the political spectrum. It’s hard for me to remember to look for the Divine in someone whose words are strident, self-righteous, or deliberately divisive.

If you know my social and political beliefs, you know that I lean liberal. Sitting at a table with a number of self-identified very conservative people was enough to keep me focused. After a time, I realized that conversations during a two-hour coffee house were only scratching the surface. It would take much longer and more effort on my part for me to truly understand any of the people at the table.

One woman, when asked why she felt she was conservative, described growing up in a way very similar to mine, then went on to state her views about one issue that were quite different than mine. She also felt she had been snubbed by neighbors because of her conservative views. As the coffee house ended, I had the urge to ask her to meet me for coffee someday to learn more. I got her attention and started talking with her, then another woman came along, and they walked away together. I didn’t try to get her attention again so never made the offer but have regretted it.

This was a powerful reminder that we need focus and boldness to listen and respond to the Divine, just as we need focus and boldness to listen and respond to each other. I need to be better not just at listening for but also at carrying out those nudges from the Divine, like asking the woman to join me for coffee.

I’m grateful to this Meeting and the wider yearly meeting of Friends for inspiring me and reminding me to listen, be bold, and continue to look for the Divine in each person.

I’ll close with a poem by a 14th century Persian poet named Hafiz.

If God invited you to a party and said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will be my special guest,”

how would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And Hafiz knows that there is no one in this world who is not standing upon God’s jeweled dance floor.

(Hafiz’s poem is from Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky; Penguin Compass Press, 2002. Dwight Wilson’s psalm used with permission of the author.)