I have come to realise that we all have burdens in our lives that we keep on carrying around with us, year after year, after year, after year… There aren’t many spaces where we feel we can allow ourselves to be seen, really and completely seen.
In 1 Samual 1, we read how Hannah is taunted and bullied by her rival wife, because she hasn’t got any children. The bullying had been going on year after year. Every time she went to the sanctuary of God she could expect to be taunted… It is only after a very long time that Hannah has the courage to pull herself together, slip away quietly and enter the sanctuary to pray.
It is the personal stories of black people experiencing prejudice and racism, especially if we know them personally, that are helping many of us become more aware and willing to learn about our privilege. As part of several diversity sessions I have led, I myself have shared parts of my husband’s story, which has become intertwined with my own.
However, the last time I shared our story I felt sad and unsatisfied. There I was, laying bare some very vulnerable moments in my husband’s life, trying to convince a group of people that racism is real. Some people were moved to the point of changing some of their views. Others had retreated in silence or responded in a more defensive mode. Since that time I have often wondered whether it was right for me to share a story of such vulnerability, which wasn’t even completely my own story, all the while knowing that this experience would likely be scrutinised and questioned.
The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there. Before I present you a list of some helpful readings, could I also encourage you to have a critical look at your social media use. Who do you follow or like? What podcasts do you listen to? How many of these are by white people talking from a Western frame, how many of these are written from a Global Majority perspective? What is the gender and sexuality of these people? You could start by intentionally following some people who will bring different perspectives and insights to your newsfeed.
A friend wrote to me with some questions around inequality and racism. She described a feeling of powerlessness and was unsure about what she, as a white woman, could do to make things better. One of the questions she asked really resonated with me and I decided to jot down some thoughts on paper. She asked: how do you hold the weight of this without being crushed by it?
I think it is important to realise that we do not manage this at all. We are crushed by it on a daily basis. We are so crushed by it,… it is a deep pain and a source of trauma for many people from the Global Majority (GM) I encounter, even though they might not all speak up about their experience of racism or see things the same way. Also, we personally at home are crushed by it and it often takes its toll on us as a multi-ethnic family. This is not an easy work and I am afraid it might never be. In fact, we’ve found that faith has become our main recourse. We go back to God.
I just finished my first year at the Encounter Course at the London Centre of Spiritual Direction. This is a refection on one of the main lessons I am taking away from this year. It has been such an exciting journey to discover how powerful listening really is. How listening in itself is just enough. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone. It is in the being listened to that people are changed.
It is something so simple, so straightforward; anyone can offer it, but yet so powerful and so life changing. Someone said, ‘being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are virtually indistinguishable’ (D. Augsberger).
This Summer, I am celebrating my 10th year in Britain. I first came to Durham and after that lived in Canterbury, London, Staplehurst and Gravesend. In a few weeks time, it is time to start packing and say our goodbyes again.
I don’t think it ever gets any easier. The future is full of uncertainties. I am struggling to deal with questions of those showing an interest in our move. Where are you going to be? How is it going to work with the children? Have you found any schools? Will you be able to keep your job? Can your parents still come and see you?
I have started a new course in Spiritual Direction called Encounter at the London Centre for Spirituality. I am hoping to share a bit more about the content of this course in future posts. For now, I would like to focus on one of the first subjects we looked into on the course, which was ‘listening’.
In our small groups, everyone was asked to talk on a specific subject for five minutes without being interrupted. The rest of the group was asked to listen and reflect on their listening, noticing any distractions and specific feelings that came up while listening.