Sometimes, when we talk less, itâ€™s amazing what we hear.
One highlight of my trip to San Francisco last month (to promote the book) was the chance to take part in â€œ5 White Guys Talk about God,â€ a panel hosted by psychotherapist, author, and good friend Katy Byrne. (The title was strictly tongue-in-cheek.) When Katy heard I was coming west, she approached four of her clergy friends about holding a freewheeling â€œGod conversationâ€ in a local cafÃ©. The six of us agreed that, in total, weâ€™d talk for about 25% of the time, and let attendees take the other 75%.
Boy, was that a good call.
The comments from the audience came fast and from all over the map. One college-age church member discussed the active hostility to religion among people in her generation. Several ex-Catholics told us how badly the Church had treated them; several current Catholics traced their love of the faith to their childhoods. We heard from a man who has traveled the world to live with people in myriad faith traditions, and a woman who recently walked over coals for the first time. One fellow told us about the healingsâ€”and raisings of the deadâ€”in his church.
It felt miraculous. Mostly, it inspired me to think about hungerâ€”the emotional and existential kinds.
I sensed, for instance, a hunger for things of the spirit. Very few topics can draw 50 people to an indoor space on a luminous Sunday evening, as this one did. Moreover, the participants had clearly lived with and thought deeply about God, or at least the idea of God; I could hear the wisdom in even the most â€œordinaryâ€ stories.
Take the Catholic who grew up in terror of missing Mass and committing mortal sinâ€”until she realized her oh-so-devout mother never went to Mass. When asked, her mom replied, â€œYour father works very hard all week long, and he deserves a nice big family meal on Sundays. Itâ€™s my job to make that meal for all of you.â€ (Can we go so far as to call it her vocation?)
I also sensed a hunger for dialogueâ€”and more capacity for doing dialogue than I might have thought. No one yelled. No one disparaged anotherâ€™s faith. We mostly told stories from our experience and shared the view from our piece of the world. Precisely what you would expect in authentic dialogue.
Most fundamentally, though, I sensed a hunger to be heard. I wonder how much this hunger pervades all of us. We have these fascinating stories that are our stories, our contribution to the world. Many of us are, deep down, bursting to tell themâ€”and they could make a difference in someoneâ€™s life if we do. Yet we have fewer and fewer places to tell our stories, thanks to the manic pace of modern life and our excessive individualism and a hundred other factors.
All of these hungers surfaced in one Sonoma cafÃ© on one night. Seeing them filled, even if in part, was profoundly moving. It was a night that deserves celebrationâ€”a small sign of hope in a world that needs it.