Reflection: Listening to Other People’s Voices, “Arts Sunday 2017”

By Lisa Hubbell

What I’ve been given to say today is about listening to other voices.

If this were a Quaker meeting, we would all settle back into silence, to give more time for Shannon’s words to sink in and work on us, along with whatever God guides us to pay attention to in that time. I’d like to take a brief moment to do that.


That is one of the ways I’ve learned over time to listen more deeply to other people’s voices. Lately, I’m learning to notice how much space I take up with my own voice. It humbles me to confront this.

I am a person both of creativity and of privilege. I was raised a Quaker girl in California in the ’60s, by white activist parents with Ph.D.s. Given that, I was encouraged to express myself and speak up more than most people, even if I got in trouble for it a lot of the time.

Singing in choirs was one of the first ways I learned that my own voice could be part of something larger.

My college choir director told me years later that he had been afraid, with all my “Question Authority” buttons and protest t-shirts, that I would not take direction at all. Instead, I was trying to be a model choir member and keep my eyes on him at all times, and trusting more and more that he could hear things we couldn’t. The obedience I practiced there taught me something I might not otherwise have accepted about submitting my own will to God’s guidance.

I also remember going to that same choir director and talking about how hard it was to blend my voice with the bright and dark vocal tones in my section, and him telling me, “That’s why I put you there. I need you to sing out more, so they can blend to you.”

In the choir I sing with now, one warm-up exercise plays with this. We’re told at first to make whatever sounds we want, and listen 100% to ourselves and not at all to the others in the room. Then, 100% to others and not at all to ourselves. Then, 50/50 and other combinations. At the moment, I like it best when I listen 30% to my own singing, and 70% to others. Playing flexibly with that helps me to listen better.

The art build last Saturday was also a time of letting my own voice and creativity be part of something larger. We didn’t have to think we were good at visual art already; David Solnit and Joanna and the brainstorming process done beforehand by people at church gave us a sense of possibility. 

We agreed quickly on the main themes for different banners. Visual ideas bubbled up first through words in a large group, and then got developed and painted in smaller groups. When we shared initial sketches with other groups, an “Ooh!” or a “Yes!” would often tell us which ideas had the most life. For our banner, those were a wall that could not stand with roots growing under, plants breaking through, and a dove flying over.

In my own small group, I started out as the “designated sketcher,” holding the one pencil we had at our table and trying to translate our ideas into form. Soon I noticed I was still holding onto the pencil when Alma had ideas, and I started letting go: offering it to her, or leaving it on the table. Amy started a conversation about what forms of art each of us had worked with in the past, and we invited Rosanna and Twyla and Dahlia and Meg to paint parts of our banner. All of this opened more space for what each of us brought to the table.

Staying open to continuing revelation requires trust that God can speak through any one of us at any time. In Quaker meeting, and in church here, that might show up as discerning prayerfully when one of us has a message to share, and listening receptively to the words we are given. 

Making art together shakes me out of my own head, out of preconceived notions, and into a space of play and exploration and possibility. Collectively, we can express a witness in a way that is beautiful, that works on us in surprising ways, that has a chance to change minds and hearts including our own.

It doesn’t matter so much *whose* gift it is, as long as we are open to receive it and to let it come through us to be shared.

May we all lend our hearts and hands and voices to something larger than ourselves. May we have the courage to speak, to wait, to listen deeply together, to say “Ooh!” and “Yes!” to what feels alive, and to act in the world.

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