15 January 2020
Communicating with the world around us
By Barbara Glasson
The world is communicating with us all the time. We are constantly reading and filtering information. We are maybe most sensitive to this when we are driving, reading the road is a constant task which we mostly do automatically. The same is true as we walk through our local area, mostly we just go onto automatic pilot and end up at our destination without really being aware how we got there unless we happen to notice something different or bump into somebody we know. To walk through a town or city or up a hill or along a lane being aware of everything can be a spiritual exercise. The mystics knew about this sense of absolute awareness and attention and it’s something we can learn too.
Reading a city, town or village can be fun and enlightening but we have to give the process our full attention, it is a listening exercise that involves our whole body. What can we hear? Are there children around, who’s speaking (or arguing) on their mobile phone, is the traffic heavy or light, are there ambulances, road sweepers or evangelists shouting? What can we smell, is it roasting chestnuts because there’s a fair in town or beer from a noonday pub? Who can we see? Why are there so many young men mid morning or unaccompanied children half way through the afternoon? Places have tides and seasons, people come and go, different things are going on all the time. To ‘read’ a place is a multifaceted and complex task, but unless we do it we will never really know it.
I think that from time to time, we should do this listening exercise as a Church. It is an intentional process so we can’t do it at the same time as chatting amongst ourselves. We need to set off as a group quietly with the intention of looking up and looking out for all that is going on around us. We would certainly learn a lot about our neighbourhood - and what people are up to on a Sunday morning whilst we are in church!
And this intentional process in a place can also bring us to a fresh understanding of our communities and how they operate, the ebbs and flows of human movement that go on around us all the time We will become curious about our neighbours and therefore want to learn more about what makes them tick.
One of the experiences of a Presidential year is to be staying in various anonymous hotel rooms around the place. I was in one such whitewashed, featureless environment recently when I realised that the only sign of life in the room was a TV screensaver of a fish tank. It was with some alarm that I realised I was actually watching the virtual fish and tracking their movement in and out of the virtual weeds! There was a speedy search for the remote control (I don’t usually get to operate such things!) and a quick exit into the city outside. I soon found myself walking through the arts quarter, sitting in a cafe with a lot of students, conversing with the station cleaners protesting for the living wage, and noticing how many homeless people were bedding down for the night.
To listen deeply is to become attentive to our environment in a new way, to look and smell and listen and feel what is around us. To do this we need to turn off our screens and walk about, then stories will be told and shared and exchanged and we will discover what God is up to all over the place!
This article first appeared in the Methodist Recorder on 18 October 2019