Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Radical Commitment To Listening:
Elizabeth O'Connor On the Difficulty Of Dialogue

The 'House Team' at St. Francis House (made up of our three residential house fellows, office coordinator, and me) sets aside an hour every Tuesday to check in, coordinate house life, discuss an aspect of Christian community, and pray. This year, we are using 'Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People' as a spring board for the discussions about Christian community. Each week, someone selects a short passage, we'll read it, and then the selecting person will ask a few questions the passage brought up for them. Today's passage comes from a chapter entitled 'Dialogue' by Elizabeth O'Connor, and seemed to me especially worth sharing.
Dialogue demands of each participant that we try to live into the other's world, try to see things as another sees them. We do not enter into dialogue in order to persuade another to see things our way. We enter into dialogue because we are open to change and are aware that our lives need correcting. Dialogue requires a clear, radical, and arduous commitment to listening. Essential to that listening is knowing in the deepest recesses of our being that we really know very little about most things, and that the truth may rest with some unlikely soul. God says to the most gifted among us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways" (Isa. 55:8). When we know that, when we are truly seeking God's will, we have to be persons of dialogue. The person of dialogue knows that no matter how mean, or hurt, or angry a person may be, he has something important to contribute to the dialogue. Each person in the recesses of his heart knows this about himself. He wants to speak his word and when he is not allowed to do that he feels in his being that a violence has been done to him. True listening requires that we not only listen to words, but also pay heed to feelings and acts.... 
True dialogue is difficult for everyone. They listen well who know they have been listened to, but few of us feel really heard. I think that I can let the other go when I believe that the has truly heard my story, or point of view, or opinion. If I think he hasn't heard me, I am apt to hold him with my "glittering eye," and tell my tale over and over. The ache caused by the inability to communicate can become a kind of throbbing pain that finds expression in too many words or conversely in the silence that locks oneself in and others out, or, even more unacceptably, in the outrageous deed....


  1. Thanks for sharing, in my native/context/Elder role, listening is perhaps the best skills one can have to transmit the message of the Creator or in our tradition, Jesus Christ. Well stated, true dialogue is difficult yet many of us continue to strive. one can do less.

    1. Thanks for this connection, Richard! So difficult, but a task worthy of our energy.


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