I had Monday all mapped out: it was the time I had set aside to spend on a complex project that required some real time to read and think and plan. Instead, I woke in a foul mood, unable to focus, unable to settle, unable even to find anything I really wanted to do. Eventually, I recognized it: cabin fever. I had stayed inside for much of the summer, cowed into submission by the heat and humidity, and I was starved for some time in nature. So I left my books on the table and went to Great Falls.
I arrived as people were setting up their Labor Day picnic: people from all over the world who had come to the United States. They were wearing shorts and exercise pants and saris; they were cooking hot dogs and bul goki and heating packets of mattar paneer. I passed through the kids chasing soccer balls and headed out along the river trail. Leaves moved gently in the breeze. Little children chased geckos along the trail. Dogs panted in the heat and strained after squirrels. Young people tied ropes onto trees and rappelled down the cliffs toward the rivers. Kayakers spun in the rapids; dragonflies spun in the air. As I moved into the woods, the babble of children’s voices faded out, and, as the silence came in, a part of my heart that had been clenched began to unfold. Something that had been missing was restored.
Each time it happens, I am astonished by what is lost when we close out what is natural, what feeds us, what we need to see to remain in balance. It made we wonder what else we are closing out; what voices we are not hearing in our nation’s political debates, what truths we are not seeing.
Those picnics, for example. In campaign speeches and political ads, we are a nation divided: torn by differing political visions, by race, by class, by market segment. Listening to them, you would not know that we are also a nation of good, decent people who come together across all those supposed divisions to play, to relax, to enjoy our families in the great outdoors, to laugh with children and old people who wear different clothes and speak different languages and enjoy the same things we do.
The earth, for another. We keep hearing about climate change, about drought, flooding, massive storms. We forget to talk about beauty, wonder, the myriad forms of life all about us that call our attention and lift our hearts. We talk about biological diversity and micro-organisms that could contain the clue to the anti-cancer drug, the AIDS cure, but we forget to mention the ways that nature makes our spirits whole, with no research required. We don’t think about the ways this world gives us life, just as it is.
This election season, listen for what is not said. Listen to the folks who are not speaking. This will make you a better voter and a better citizen. But it will also make you a better disciple. Jesus spent so much time with those who did not have weight in this world, listening to the words they could not say, speaking with the people who were supposed to be silent. If you learn to notice them at all, you will begin to see them everywhere: rich and poor, young and old, everywhere. Even in your own heart.
There are voices there that are trying to be heard, too. What would you become if you listened?