Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hearing Voices

On Wednesday evening, January 27, between 8:15 and 9:20 p.m., I was glued to the televised live broadcast of President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Alongside four companions, I took note of the setting, row upon row of representatives and senators and watched their body language. There were many smiles, frequent handshakes, some back slaps and, from one side of the aisle particularly, mainly stony faces.

The president spoke of the hopes and aspirations of the American people, their fears and anger about the extraordinary economic upheaval this nation has been going through for almost two years now. He quoted from letters he has received and referred to stories about people who have suffered or managed to succeed in these perilous times. That makes me ask: what voices are heard on Pennsylvania Avenue? Who speaks up and how are they sure of being heard?

St. Benedict states in his Rule that the abbot or abbess should seek counsel, the advice (and consent?) of many voices as he or she makes decisions. He refers first to senior advisors—known for their wisdom and community-mindedness—to share in the process of decision making. But Benedict then advocates calling upon “the young”—the less experienced, though no less community-minded—to also serve as advisors. To me, this means giving credence and respect to a variety of voices, a diversity which can be enriching —though admittedly also confusing and perhaps even contradictory at times.

President Obama needs to and seems to hear many voices as he ponders courses of action for this nation. Presidents (like abbots and abbesses) can rely so heavily upon an “inner circle” that they fail to hear the full range of voices which are clamoring to be heard. Worse yet would be an atmosphere of fear or apathy preventing the raising of these voices. Fortunately, there is no lack of people ready and willing to speak up—nationally and locally. In my own community, I am so grateful that there are a goodly number who regularly speak up and share concerns, ideas and ideals—all of which can enlarge and enliven our present and future hopes and plans.

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