by Laurie Gudim
The Feast Day of Saints Aiden and Cuthbert
I find the stories of saints who spent their days walking the roads around their homes – who made it a custom to fall into conversation with strangers, listening and learning about their lives and then speaking to them from a rich personal experience of relationship with God – profoundly appealing. The adventure of following Christ ought to include this kind of open-hearted welcome. It’s a soul-space of curiosity and compassion.
I remember when I was growing up that I’d find this sort of hospitality among some of the dude ranchers I knew. Their tables were places where people gathered to share their experiences and passions. The hosts would listen deeply, asking questions and occasionally exclaiming in wonder. The guests would find themselves called into speech by this gracious attentiveness. The hosts learned about the wide world beyond their doors. The guests left with a deeper appreciation of the meaning of their lives and work.
Many monastic communities also practice this listening. They call it seeing the Christ in the guest who comes to their doors. And, as St. Aiden learned in his work among the people of Lindisfarne early in the history of the church, it is a very good tool for evangelism.
Episcopalians are not yet too comfortable with the idea of evangelism. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous, we wonder? But at root it is really simple – and natural. At root evangelism is merely that in me which belongs to Christ calling out to another person who also belongs to Christ but who may not recognize that fact. The voice of Christ whispers through us, in the stories we tell, in the silence we keep, and in the actions we take. Walking the roads with an eye for where help is needed, hands to help with burdens, and a creative mind for discovering resources for those in trouble would work as well as good listening.
But listening is how I do it. Listening well helps me learn a stranger’s personal language. I learn their joys, what they are stumped by, what moves them. The stories are magnificent; they are jewels. Christ is right there in the middle of them.
And if I should share my own story in response, in companionable good feeling, what is wrong with that? They can take it or leave it, after all. And if they recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in something I have said or done, well, then I’m all ears once again. They can tell me what they are hearing, and I will be as gobsmacked as they are. Christ will rejoice with both of us.
Linked from Episcopal Café Speaking to the Soul
Image: Ann Fontaine photo from Writer’s Retreat at St Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, Nehalem OR