This isnâ€™t about aural listening per se, but I think the lesson still applies.
Today my churchâ€™s lectionary (a fixed order of sacred texts for each day of the year) prescribed the reading of Matthew 19:1-12, in which Jesus speaks out on divorce. In keeping with the monastic tradition that Iâ€™m associated with, Igive these lectionary passages a slow, contemplative reading, listening to how the passage speaks to my heart more than my head.
The first time through, the liturgy from weddings past echoed in my mind: â€œThat which God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.â€ The second time through, I heard what Iâ€™ve always heard in this passage: Jesus holds marriage as sacred, regards divorce as a necessary evil, and has some tough words about remarryingâ€”the sort of thing that does not go down well when your countryâ€™s divorce rate hovers around 40 percent.
Something, though, made me linger.
As I wandered through a third time, another insight emerged. Nearly every reference has to do with a man divorcing his wifeâ€”not the other way around. As noted in Breakthrough: The Bible for Young Catholics, â€œWomen in Jesusâ€™ culture had very few rights and were basically considered the property of their husbands.â€ A divorced woman would have been extremely vulnerable economically and socially.
Maybe this passage isnâ€™t about divorce in general, then. Maybe itâ€™s about men and the imperative for them to treat their partners with reverenceâ€”along with the implicit message that the women they thought were their property really are much more.
So which interpretation is correct? Both? Neither? I canâ€™t tell you for sureâ€”even the notes in my Bibles donâ€™t agree. The point here, though, is this:
Thereâ€™s a risk in thinking weâ€™ve listened enough. Just when we think we â€œget itâ€â€”whether â€œitâ€ is the meaning of a familiar sacred text, the situation of a friend in crisis, or the experience of historically oppressed groupsâ€”we may suddenly stumble upon a deeper perspective, or a whole new level of nuance, or a different side to the issue that has completely escaped us. Which calls us to listen first, last, and always.
In any isolated instance, of course, we may have to wrap up our listening for reasons of time or schedule. But weâ€™re on thin ice in thinking weâ€™ve â€œarrivedâ€ at enlightenment on any given issue and therefore need listen no more.
As youâ€™ve probably noticed, Iâ€™ve been away from this page for a couple of months. One reason for that involves a difficult experience that Iâ€™m starting to thinkâ€”and writeâ€”my way through; youâ€™ll see more on that in cyberspace over the next weeks and months. Another reason has to do with the strategic planning Iâ€™ve been doing with regard to The Dialogue Venture. As a result of that planning, you will probably see more of me in places like HuffPost Religion and, I hope, the Christian Century blog (my first post for themâ€”yay!â€”is here) and the Doing Dialogue blog for the Public Conversations Project and various other places. Because Iâ€™m only one person, though, that means Iâ€™ll be blogging here on an occasional basis rather than the weekly or biweekly articles Iâ€™ve posted till now. Please feel welcome to stay in touch, watch this page, and check my screed elsewhere on the web too.