Did you ever notice that the words listen and silent have the same letters? I find this interesting. In order to really listen, I need to be truly silent. As an extrovert, this is not easy. When I listen, I tend to think about how I will respond. I want to be a better listener. In fact, my word for 2020 is listen. Every January for the past few years, I have chosen a word as a focal point. There is certainly a lot to listen to this year. At times, there is too much to listen to and I have to discern what is helpful and what is not.
I like to hear Pope Francis speak, but it is his ability to listen that inspires me. I once heard him referred to as “ever the listener.” He encourages us to listen to our brothers and sisters most in need with tenderness and compassion, listen to what is happening within our own hearts, and listen to God’s voice in it all. Whom or what do you listen to these days?
When I first chose the word listen, I thought about ministry at the U.S./Mexico border. I am in sacred spaces meeting our brothers and sisters from South and Central America who are seeking asylum in the U.S. The “Remain in Mexico” program forces men, women, and children to wait for their multiple asylum court cases over several months in Juarez. I accompany people fleeing violence, death threats, and persecution in their countries. In order to understand the needs of each person, I must carefully listen. As I listen, I try not to think about how I will respond. This is tricky as Spanish is my second language and there is a lot of translating going on in my mind before I speak. The devotion to listen with my whole heart and mind takes practice and energy. God’s beloved people deserve it. How do you listen to the people you accompany?
In April, the impact of the pandemic restricted the border and limited access to these sacred spaces. I listened to my community and temporarily returned to Arizona. It was difficult to leave the border not knowing for sure when I would return. We know that the needs are drastically increasing among our most vulnerable brothers and sisters and not being there is painful. When I arrived in Phoenix from El Paso, I went into quarantine. The change in my schedule offered more time and space to listen to what was happening within me. How can I love and respect myself if I am not listening to my own heart? I find journaling and sitting in silence helps. After I pour my heart out on paper or in prayer, I can drop into a deeper quieter space. God is in the silence loving us where we are. I feel more connected to myself and God when I listen. How do you listen to your own heart? How do you listen to God’s heart?
As I listened to what was happening within me, grief emerged. A year earlier I had accompanied my anam cara (spiritual guide/soul friend), Sr. Gabby, through her hospice journey. In 2001, my dear Irish sister invited me, a Mexican-American, to consider religious life. When I entered, she continued to tell me that I belonged. This was important as I was/am a minority by ethnicity and age in the U.S. province. She listened to my joys and struggles and loved me unconditionally. Her death was so difficult to walk through. I am blessed that my mom accompanied me through that time and continues to listen to me and love me through all the ups and downs. Who listens to your heart?
Today we are especially aware of the grief in our country and world as almost 600,000 people have died from the coronavirus. Our Sr. Xiomara recently wrote a lovely article on hope in the midst of pain as she is a hospital chaplain on the frontlines of the pandemic. I listen to her voice as she shares first hand accounts of the impact of the virus. Who are you listening to on the frontlines?
Our country is experiencing the continued grief and pain of police brutality, racial inequality and injustices against our black brothers and sisters. Our Sr. Chioma last month shared a powerful reflection on her experiences of racism and questions for us to seriously consider. She challenges us to “be anti-racist in a proactive way.” I’m listening to her voice. Our call to love requires us to confront and root out racism within ourselves, our communities, and our country. What prophetic voices are you listening to?
When we are truly silent, we can really listen. When we really listen, we truly love.