At the launch of the 4 Corners Festival today I was struck by the enthusiasm of the organisers and the creative intermingling of culture, hope and experience to provide a festival programme to evoke thinking about The Art of Listening. There was so much talent in the room and all bent in the direction of bringing the City to life through encounter and shared learning.
One phrase has stuck with me all day. Rev Steve Stockman, one of the festivals founders and man of crafted language, was speaking about an event to be held in The Long Gallery at Stormont on Friday 5th February. The reshowing of the BBCs documentary True North will be, said Stockman, ‘prophetic.’ I paraphrase him now but he said that something can be very good but when moved to another place it becomes prophetic. We watched a clip from the documentary in which a young bandsman speaks of how he feels judged. This judgement is not made out of understanding or an attempt to listen but from a distance, without thought for the one judged. The pain of that judgement and what it inflicts is palpable in the voice of the young man willing to open his story to a listening audience.
Something can be very good but when moved to another place it becomes prophetic.
That’s what’s stuck in my head. I have thought about the courage of so many in this country, of the very good work that has been done and continues to be done with young people supporting them to resist violence and division; with those who have been wounded in body, mind and spirit; among and between divided communities; with those who have caused injury and harm; with those who have stood by and zipped their lips when it would have been better to speak out. I have thought about the energy of politicians and middle level grafters for change and people on the ground and communities reaching across to the other side to touch that which is held in common. I have thought about those who have had the courage to open their hearts and about those who have sat in what is sometimes the painful place of listening. I have thought about the many prophets in their own fronts rooms who have not yet found a way to get out of their own front rooms. And I have thought about those who feel unnecessarily judged and misunderstood. But most of all I have wondered what it would mean for us to take what is very good about our history, about our acts of courage, about our attempts to weave new relationships for a better future and move those very good things to another place. What would be prophetic about that? Would it make a difference?
When the prophets of old spoke, some listened and others did not. But the speaking was important. The doing was important. Where the prophet stood to speak and to whom. These things all contributed to the prophetic moment but what made the change was the listening. That’s what unlocked a past and threw open the possibility of a future, a different future. We may tremble at the thought of being heard or at the thought of listening but honing the skill of listening when what is very good is moved to a different place may be what unlocks the ever turning cycle of damage that we persist in doing to one another. We have all the pieces to dismantle the obstacles to a more embedded peace which gifts healing to the broken, justice to the suffering and hope to the hopeless. We just haven’t got those pieces to the right place.
Something can be very good but when moved to a different place it becomes prophetic.