One of the attractions of travel, for me, is to get to spend a little time with languages other than the one I speak every day. I’m not nearly fluent in anything, but there are a couple of spots in the world where, if you dropped me from a helicopter, I’d probably survive. Central America is one of those areas, thanks to high school and college Spanish, so this recent trip to Nicaragua was an eagerly awaited opportunity to see what I could dust off.
It was quite gratifying to be able to be polite in the language of our hosts – hello, please, thank you, the rice and beans are really delicious, etc. What I found it harder to do was listen. And it turns out we were primarily there to listen. As the week went on I noticed a few things about myself vis-à-vis this language thing. If I had enough sleep and enough coffee — and set an intention to pay attention — I could usually get the gist of the conversation (although I was still really happy to have our awesome interpreter Julieta to fill in any gaps in my comprehension).
If I could get some exercise in now and then – a short walk, a little stretching – and set an intention to pay attention, I could focus anew, and in addition to the Spanish coming at me, I could read faces, eyes, hands, bodies to help get more of the nuances. When I reminded myself that my many internal responses, defenses, questions could all wait till later, I could create more quiet space to accept what was being offered to us in our many, many conversations about Nicaragua’s history, sociology, economics, gender relations, coffee production, biointensive gardening, community organizing.
But whenever I was tired, fidgety, impatient or inattentive, the very language that was flowing pretty nicely just a moment ago became senseless sound, and I sat back and waited for the familiar English.
And although this happened hundreds of miles away and in a different language, it isn’t much different in my life here on the Seacoast. With my family, my friends, with you, my South Church peeps, I always seem to listen better if I have enough sleep (and enough coffee!), if my body gets enough movement, if I quiet my impulses to be the one talking….if I set an intention to listen, the connection is richer.
Your Committee on Ministry exists in large part to listen to you. Our church is at its best when we are all really listening to each other. Might that not be a big part of nurturing spiritual growth in community?