No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.
(From the Sanctoral Lectionary – Samson Occom – Luke 8:16-18 – July 14, 2012)
(Note: A departure from this blog’s norm, today’s meditation is not from the Daily Office Lectionary, but is based on the readings for the commemoration of the Rev. Samson Occum found on the Episcopal Church’s sanctoral calendar today.)
More than thirty years of studying scripture and today is the first time I really paid attention to the fact that “to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away” is a dependent clause! Its meaning must be understood as deriving from the admonition to “pay attention to how you listen”! The entire sentence follows a remark about hidden things being disclosed, secrets coming to light, and facts becoming known. This is not a statement about position, possessions, wealth, or power; this is a statement about communication, understanding, and confusion. More specifically, it is a warning to be aware of the filters through which we hear and understand what we receive from others.
A few days ago I received an email from a colleague. It began, “I’ve been thinking about you.” It’s always nice to receive notes saying that, but this one continued with an inquiry whether I ever took steps to improve what my correspondent called my “leadership competencies.” That didn’t feel so nice. It felt like criticism; it stung. Shortly thereafter, this same colleague forwarded an essay from a blog on leadership with no introduction other than to say, “I follow this blog.” I read the essay and my defensive internal barricades went up: “Is my colleague saying that my leadership isn’t up to snuff, that I don’t measure up to this so-called expert’s standards?”
I could have fired off a quick rebuttal, a flip and uptight reaction, and (believe me) I was tempted! But I have been trying to be more mindful of the fact that I cannot really know the motive, the underlying thought processes, or even the meaning of anyone who sends me a short one-liner electronic communication! I found this to be especially true following (and sending) “tweets” during the recent Episcopal Church General Convention. Limited to 140 characters, tweets are notoriously lacking in emotional content, although some people at the Convention did show remarkable ability to communicate snarkiness and sarcasm in their Twitter feeds! Still . . . I knew better than to respond immediately. I did try to pay attention to how I “listened” to my colleague’s emails, to understand that the criticism I “heard” may not have been “spoken”.
If I had responded immediately (and negatively, as it would have been), that would have been the end of our communication, I’m sure. My confusion about my colleague’s intentions would have deprived me of any further learning: from the one (me) who had little, even what I did have would have been taken. This reading is paired with a brief bit from the Book of Sirach which begins, “Happy is the person who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently.” I’m not sure about the “happy” part of that text . . . but I do know that by taking a few minutes to meditate on how I was “hearing” my colleague’s email and by reasoning intelligently rather than reacting emotionally, I kept open for the present what has generally been (and I hope will continue to be) a pleasant and productive communication.
Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.