The Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, spoke of faith as an act of ultimate concern. Faith then is not the conclusion we adhere to but the unshakeable way we give our ultimate concern to whatever is before us. Unless we have to courage to listen to each other with ultimate concern, fear will rule everything. This is our greatest challenge during this election season: to quiet our assumptions and opinions so our ultimate concern, our faith in each other, can reanimate the bonds of our larger community.
In such a complex and fast-moving world, it’s hard to hear the life around us. Bombarded by images 24/7, we’re barely touched by anything. Without listening, it’s easy to hold firm positions. Without listening, we seek the comfort of sameness.
This is only heightened during an election season, when we’re driven by the media and political parties to embrace strident positions of opposition. No matter your views, we all drown in the endless talking over one another. No one listens; the parties don’t communicate. This creates a collective anxiety and exacerbates our sameness and fear of difference. With so much at stake, we have to stop and listen. We have to create a space to listen to one another, regardless of religion, party, or ethnic background, because we need everyone’s best thinking to heal our society.
Regardless of our path or tradition, we need to help each other enliven a deeper faith, one that comes from a trust that our values and beliefs won’t vanish if we listen to others. Rather, the way insects carry nectar and pollinate so many different flowers into the miracle of spring, the miracle of life will blossom, for the honest receiving of each other. The human spring can only break ground, if we dare to put aside our assumptions and judgments, and listen.
A faith that grows in its compassion resides in the confidence that who-and-what-we-are will combine with others to reveal the full power of life. It is an insecure faith that guards itself from the influence of other life. We all fear the influence of others at times, afraid that what we know won’t stay solid or in view, if we let anything else in. But listening beyond our opinions is a way to solidify our foundation and strengthen our openness. This kind of faith keeps us close to the resilience inherent in all life.
Staying in conversation together is how we find the love and truth that help us live. Without each other, we miss much of what we know. Without the courage to face each other and hold each other, we remain broken and adrift. It seems simple, but staying in conversation this way is the work of faith.
When we dare to quiet our minds and the thoughts we inherit, the differences between us move back and the things we have in common move forward. When we dare to quiet the patterns of our past, everything starts to reveal its kinship and share its aliveness. Because listening stitches the world together. Listening is the doorway to everything that matters.
Our challenge is to surrender into the life we are given. Hard as it is, magnificent as it is, overwhelming as it is, faith asks us to befriend life itself. We are asked to stir the angel that sleeps within us, until it uses our hands as a soul at work on Earth. For as blood needs veins to do its work, love needs us.
Mark Nepo is the author of 13 books and eight audio projects, including New York Times bestseller “The Book of Awakening” and his latest book, “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred.” He has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for more than 35 years.