Global & Local Listening

Let us create space to listen to the sounds of suffering and joy.

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Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.

This past July I spent three days at a monastery in Big Sur, California, with Benedictine monks who live as hermits. It is a silent atmosphere, so I spent most of my day in an isolated trailer without phone, traffic, email, or conversation. The first day I was there was one of the longest and noisiest of my life. My own mind more than filled up the silence. I fretted endlessly over mistakes I had made in my most precious relationships and in my career. By the second day without speaking, the chatter inside my brain had started to quiet down. I began to get to the more essential concerns that lay below these fears. How can I best give and receive love? What do I truly want to change in the world?

american jewish world serviceOn the third day, I was finally able to notice the silence. Small sounds became fiercely beautiful. The buzzing of a fly took on monumental proportions. My tiny interactions with other people also started to take on new meaning. I noticed how warm the young acolyte’s smile was, the unusually graceful walk of an elderly woman who was a guest in one of the other trailers. The silence allowed me to be present to other people in new and surprising ways. Ironically, it gave me the space to truly listen.

Give Ear, O Heavens

When I first started doing pastoral counseling in rabbinical school I was always afraid that I would say the wrong thing. But I soon learned that what most people need during challenging moments in their lives is not more words, but the space to be heard.

This week we come to the penultimate portion of the Torah, Parashat Haazinu. It is a beautiful work of biblical poetry that opens with Moses asking to be listened to on a global level. We read: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the Earth hear the words I utter! May my speech come down as the rain; my words distill as the dew (Deut. 32:1-2).”

What would global listening sound like? How might we live differently in the coming year if we truly stopped in this season and listened to the stories of pain and survival around the globe that surround us each day? What if we took the time and space to listen to the voices behind the news stories when we hear reports of famine or genocide? What if we stopped on the street corner to hear how poverty and a global imbalance of wealth impact the homeless man who just asked us for spare change?

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Rabbi Elliot Kukla is a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco.

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