The last couple of days have involved some times of intense listening for me. As a participant in our Conference’s Sacred Conversations on Race, there were others who were sharing their perspective and challenging some old notions that lie deeply ingrained in my identity. As a member of a majority-white community, I grew up with less awareness of race and its impact on people’s lives than those who grew up in minority communities. I was fortunate to have parents who talked about race in our home, who invited others into our home and who worked hard to educate us in the complexities of our society and our world.

Still, conversations that seek to bring honesty and openness to difficult topics demand careful listening. Our conversations over the past five years or so have required plenty of careful listening.

Part of careful listening for me, especially in long-lasting relationships, is occasionally admitting that I’ve gotten something wrong. I try very hard to understand how others see the world and to share their experiences as fully as possible. I try to be compassionate and loving. But there are times when my perspective is a bit skewed, times when I have understood only partially the experiences of another, and times when the assumptions I bring to the conversation are inaccurate. When that occurs, relationship is deepened by a simple apology. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I will try harder to understand how you see things.”

Recognizing my mistakes and misperceptions does something very deep and important in relationships. It returns to my awareness the sense of mystery and wonder in another. Differences are blessings when they are recognized.

The shrillness of the political rhetoric of this most unusual campaign season has convinced me that true leadership doesn’t rest in converting others to your way of thinking - of insisting on sameness in thought and interpretation. True leadership thrives in the careful cultivation of uncertainty and questioning. When we are uncertain and when we raise questions we become open to the world and the possibility of new options and possibilities.

The deep problems of our society are not solved by black-and-white, either-or choices. They are solved by discovering additional options and considering unseen choices. Creative leadership involves becoming open to mystery and newness.

To put it another way, I remember a wise teacher who once said, “If all you do when you pray is talk, you’ll never hear what God is saying.” Indeed, from a theological point of view, the failure to admit mistakes is a form of idolatry - of failing to admit one’s humanity in the face of God’s divinity.

In a world where impact is measured in sound bites, 24-hour news cycles and advertising is sold by the second, it is difficult to find enough silence to think. We begin to view the candidates as perpetual talking machines and evaluate them in terms of the words they say, without remembering that true wisdom is cultivated in silence and listening.

I am well aware that I don’t have what it takes to be a successful politician. Furthermore, I don’t aspire to be one. I do have political opinions. I suspect, however, that I have more to add to the quality of political conversation in our community by listening than by talking.

In his famous book, “Walden,” Henry David Thoreau, after writing a chapter on the economics of his venture and stating his reasons for going “to the woods to live deliberately,” writes an oft-quoted passage towards the end of the second chapter:

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”

I am not called to live the life proposed by Thoreau. I appreciate his invitation to live deliberately. On the other hand, I have no inclination to live separately. Life in community is deeply important to me. Relationships with other people are the focus of my life. Still, there is wisdom to be gained from reading his words.

The first sentence is more of a slogan, almost short enough for a bumper sticker, definitely short enough for Twitter. It what comes after that sentence that is so inviting to me. Thoreau is able to see the shallowness of our usual perception of the passage of time and seeks to drink deeper.

I, too, seek to drink deeper, especially of the otherness of this world. I want to go beyond what is visible on the surface and discover the mystery and fresh revelation that is each human soul. I long for a world where the privilege of one’s race is not a constant factor in the suffering of another. One of my favorite lines in a traditional liturgy for communion is the prayer that sharing by all will mean scarcity for none. The invitation is to offer all that we have and all that we are to God and trusting the abundance of God’s grace.

Achieving those visions requires intense listening. It also requires confession of sin - acknowledgment of mistakes made and making fresh commitments to avoid repeating those mistakes. For it is in the honest admitting of mistakes and misperceptions that we open ourselves to the mystery of seeing things in a new way. The world isn’t quite the way we once perceived it. There is more to it: more wonder, more glory, more hope, more faith, more peace, more love. I don’t understand everything. The universe and the people in it are filled with mystery. There is much more to be revealed.

And it all starts with listening - really listening. May I discover places in the midst of this season of shouting to listen more carefully than ever.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!