And Then, Silence: Reflecting on the Liturgy of Listening

Liturgy of Listening Altar_2Crystal Hardin, staff writer

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By Crystal Hardin
Staff Writer

We stood outside the Convention Center having just participated in the Liturgy of Listening hosted by the House of Bishops on the evening of July 4, trying to reflect on what had just happened inside. We got as far as “I feel heavy” and “I feel angry” and then, silence.

Silence. An appropriate first response, I think.

I’m meant to use words to say something about this tremendous liturgy and all I’ve got are feelings not easily put into words. But, for your sake, dear readers, I’ll try.

“We have just done a new thing,” perhaps Bishop Susan Goff said it best, “We have just told the truth to one another. I hope it doesn’t stop.”

The liturgy was truly one of listening, a service like none I have been a part of before. It opened with a profoundly moving solo by the talented Sandra Montes. Singing quieted for words of invitation from the Presiding Bishop to those present “to a time to listen with the ear of the heart” before picking back up again as we chanted together Confitemini Domino. Recitation of Psalm 51 introduced an extended Litany of Lament.

Let me stop here, before I move into a play-by-play of the liturgy itself, which I feel at risk of doing. The vulnerability displayed during this liturgy will not allow me to hide my rough edges here, or anywhere else, anymore.

How then shall I proceed? With nothing less than my truth, which is perhaps best expressed, although never perfectly, through my own raw feelings as I moved through the liturgy.

I felt a cautious hope and a sense of small victory the moment every bishop present stood up and began to lament in unison their sinful complicity with the evil actions of sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse within our Church. To sit while they stood and to witness their collective lamentations did not feel like a #blessing, nor did it feel like a gift. It felt like a shift in the order towards the direction of a fundamental rightness. A moment long past due, and yet a moment whose impact will, with God’s help, extend well past it.

I felt horror, a sense of shame, and, frankly, rage when, in the midst of the reflections being offered, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s not too bad.” That’s not too bad?! The reflections offered were witnesses to the tragedy and horror that is the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse within our Church. They spoke to abuse of power, events of unimaginable violence, and of spiritual assault. And, they spoke to what those of us who identify as female deal with every single day: small acts of disrespect, uncomfortable jokes, comments on our clothing, mansplaining and unacceptable flirtation. These things, for a moment, felt “not too bad” given some of the “more extreme” testimony. I call bullshit. Not too bad is not good enough. Not too bad is evidence of a climate that is completely and utterly unacceptable. Not too bad is a tragedy. We must be better than this.

In each deep silence following the individually read reflections, I felt emotions I cannot name. The silence was full of shock, heartache, and sometimes the sound of sobbing that could not be quieted. Perhaps such profound silence is, for a time, the only right container for the knowledge of our sinful condition finally placed in the light. As Fleming Rutledge eloquently wrote, “Properly understood, the knowledge of one’s sinful condition comes as good, even joyful knowledge.”

I feel hope. Hope that our speaking truth to one another will continue well past this liturgy. Hope that this truth can be met with attentive listening. Hope that what feels like a turning point is the first step in healing. Hope that we will continue this difficult, necessary work with the type of boldness that can only be fueled by faith. Hope that the knowledge of our sinfulness that was held in the light last night will, indeed, stir within us the joyful knowledge that we rest within the grace of Christ, a grace that commands us to be better than this.

Crystal Hardin is a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, a recovering attorney, and an accomplished writer and photographer. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alabama School of Law, where she served as an editor of The Alabama Law Review. She blogs at Seeking Sacrament

Photo credit: Celal Kamran