To Live Among People

by Mark Votava


I remember one time running and walking in the neighborhood to discover the freedom of the sky, the freedom of the sun, the freedom of the wind and the freedom of the sidewalks.  I sensed God using this creation to speak to me about the livability of this place I was standing on.  God was reminding me of the many days the sun has shown on this land.

For countless years, this place has had the sun.  The wind has blown here.  The sky has watched over it with faithfulness.

So many people decade after decade have walked these sidewalks.  People of different races, socio-economic status, genders, lifestyles and opinions have lived here.  The rich and the poor alike have lived here.

God was reminding me to listen to the stories of the many beautiful Japanese people in the neighborhood who were forced into prison camps in the 1940’s.  God was reminding me of the pictures I had seen on the walls in a local coffee shop of what Downtown Tacoma looked like in the year 1910.  I think to myself, “What a beautiful place this is.”

It was very integrated before the mall was built in the 1970’s.  Now Downtown Tacoma struggles with its local economy.  It has been exploited and abused at times, but it still contains a lot of mystery and beauty.

As I was running another mile through the streets of Downtown Tacoma on a Saturday morning, God was teaching my soul to listen to everything around me.  God was teaching me to listen to everything within me.

I am reminded of the beauty and mystery in my struggles to embody love in this place with others.  Our listening becomes better and more seasoned with each day we practice silence and solitude in some form.  Whether it is alone in a room, running or walking in the neighborhood, doing an artistic expression or just thinking and learning of some kind; our listening is showing us a lot of beauty and mystery that is hard to see otherwise.

Henri J.M. Nouwen says, “It seems more important than ever to stress that solitude is one of the human capacities that can exist, be maintained and developed in the center of a big city, in the middle of a large crowd and in the context of a very active and productive life.  A man or woman who has developed this solitude of heart is no longer pulled apart by the most divergent stimuli of the surrounding world but is able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center.”

Silence and solitude can exist anywhere.  This posture can be practiced within our relational context as the body of Christ in the parish.  Everyday life is filled with moments where listening is required and demanded of us to see the mystery and beauty all around us.  We need to live into this through the mystical imagination.

No context should separate us from silence and solitude.  It is a way of life in all things.  All our relational encounters are to be practiced in silence and solitude with a deep listening intentionality.

Jesus is our example of this way of life.  We should not be slow to have some receptivity to listening to mystery and receiving beauty in the place we inhabit together.

I love this expression by Karen Wilk of her longing for God to move her to embody a compassionate listening where she lives, “Give me your eyes to see this community and its people as you do.  Give me your ears to listen to their hearts as you hear them.  Give me an open and attentive spirit to recognize where you are already at work.  Fill me with courage that I might ask the right questions, accept the true answers, and follow your leading.  Equip and empower me to engage in this place, to live among people just as you did…”

How can we live among people and care?