In the not too long ago the Muse bedded poet, Michael Hettich, that we might taste the bitter-sweet passion of their inspired union . . . "For one entire day we loved until we turned translucent. The room we loved in was filled with delicate furniture . . . like an ear . . . listening."
As I slowly awakened to the penetrating insight of that thought, I found my eyes brightening with the mist of an ancient, unfulfilled yearning that runs bone-deep in everyone of us. It's a profound longing to connect, at least now and then, with someone who has mastered the compassionate art of translucent listening . . . the discerning capacity to hear, acknowledge and remember the specific words I speak and the way I speak them while remaining absolutely free of any tendency to corrupt the integrity of my communication by superimposing upon it arbitrary interpretive labels that distort and misrepresent its original content and intent.
Though I'm doing my best to discover the freedom resident in a growing capacity to embrace Achaan Chah's instruction to "do everything with a mind that lets go," or Krishnamurti's counsel to "learn to observe without evaluation," I must confess I still find it challenging as hell to "let go" of my preference to be heard clearly and accurately. In fact, I'm perfectly comfortable with the notion that I'm out of round with the spiritual mandate to "bear not false witness" every time I characterize what someone is saying or doing with a label that distorts or misrepresents its true nature. So, I think each of us has a spiritual obligation to be perfectly clear in how we describe to ourselves and others what our brothers and sisters are doing and saying. It's an aspect of basic lovingkindness that makes it holy work.
Let's not forget what Mother Teresa said about holiness. "Holiness is everyone's ordinary duty." And just in case you aren't clear on what that means . . . "Ordinary" means your holiness isn't something we reserve for special occasions. It's wasn't meant to be a big deal on the human scene. Each of us was created in the image and likeness of holiness. In the divine plan it's our basic, ordinary reality. Be righteous. Be holy. And "duty" means there's no way around it. No avoidance. No denial. Just do it. Cause when we don't be holy with each other, when we don't truly hear each other, it gets real interesting, real quick. Consider this.
A number of years ago, during my first ministry in Richmond, Virginia, I received a copy of a letter one of our congregants had written to our Board President expressing her opposition to an initiative the Board had unanimously supported as being in the best interest of the church. Believing that her resistance might be due to a lack of information or a simple misunderstanding, I called her to discuss the matter. She expressed her position on the subject. I let her know that my personal response to the project had been essentially in agreement with her sentiment regarding her prime area of concern. However, since we operated our Board on a consensus basis, I had chosen to support the majority and go along with the initiative.
During the course of our discussion I pointed out a few allegations her letter contained in reference to the project's intention that simply weren't accurate. I encouraged her to consider rephrasing some of her statements regarding the initiative to make them more consistent with the facts of the matter and, perhaps, allow her to see the project in a more favorable light. A very candid, authentic, uncensored and spirited discussion followed that made it very clear her position was not about to change. So be it. We had shared the loving gift of direct address and the matter was history as far as I was concerned. NOT!
A few days later I received a copy of a second letter she had written to our Board President stating that her first letter had elicited a "rather vocal reply" from yours truly. I've got no problem with that. Vocal is what I do best. But then the characterization fun began. The next sentence suggested my call to her had been "abrasive and aggressive," and that I had "acted as if I was not only the minister, but the entire Board and the entire church itself." Now she was on a roll. Her label maker was loaded for bear and she didn't leave a stone unturned.
She next stated that she had a perfect right as a member of the congregation to express an opinion without "being assaulted by a semantic diatribe." A change of pace followed acknowledging that "most members generally recognize the effort, the work, the dedication that the minister has expended over the last two years." "However", she continued, "this does not give him license to fly into a rage at someone who disagrees with him."
There you go. In three short paragraphs her description of my behavior had evolved from a "rather vocal reply" through "assault with a semantic diatribe" (my personal favorite) to "flying into a rage." Isn't it fascinating to realize how we can create such a rich variety of identities for someone simply by saying they are so. How the power of the word includes the power to name, misname, rename, manipulate, twist into desired shape not only matter but mind.
And isn't it sad that the beings stuck in this form of "bearing false witness" usually do so with an absolute conviction that their distortions and misrepresentations constitute an absolutely accurate and ethical reflection of their experience. Thus, "seeing through their mirrors" only darkly, no Muse befriends them. They simply aren't available to be loved for the time it takes to turn them translucent. That is until you invite them into your holiness and take on their healing as your ordinary duty.
And will the time ever come when we won't have to labor so damned hard over our relationships?
Only as long as it takes to remember that "the Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences." Only as long as it takes us to remember to "forgive seventy times seven times." Only as long as it takes to remember that "holiness in our ordinary duty" and only when taking a break from lovingkindness becomes unthinkable.