A Sydney Christmas
Listening is not what first comes to my mind as Christmas in Sydney approaches. We are experiencing days of 35 sweltering degrees C followed by the reliable southerly change, which drops the temperature by 10 degrees (last week by 20!). It’s a time of busy shopping crowds, tired yet excited children, swimming, sand in the toes, financial stress, joyful times with family, ambivalence about time with family, loneliness for many, 6 weeks off school, and upbeat Christmas carols in the shops urging us to buy up.
The roads are choking with the traffic of Christmas shopping and work Christmas parties. Neighbours compete for the best Christmas lights or just delight in joining in the spectacle. Friends get together as the pressure of work seeps away – at least for a few days. The hum of summer cicadas fills the air. It’s a time to stop and breath and relax and connect. Festivals are precious times of bringing communities together, whether it’s Christmas, Diwali, Eid al Fitr, Hanukkah or secular festivals.
The jarring of those cast out from their home
Nothing has moved me more in the lead up to Christmas this year than my friend and neighbour Kali’s front yard creation (see the photo above). What first appears to be a nativity scene is an open tent, with several asylum seekers crowding for shelter. There are no lights, no tinsel, few possessions. I can’t help but pivot between this scene and the nativity scene it brings to mind – of asylum seekers turned away two thousand years ago.
The contrast of this scene against the bright coloured lights of neighbouring properties is stark. It is such a heart-wrenching reminder to me of the millions of people without food, homes and communities; people like you and me who are denied the opportunities we so easily take for granted.
In recent weeks as bombs have dropped on Aleppo I have imagined what it would be like to have bombs dropped on the suburb where I live, to have Sydney decimated, to have thousands of people walking the freeway west over the Blue Mountains to hoped for safety. At times I feel despair and powerlessness to help as I hear the pleas of these people for the world to listen and support them.
Listening when I don’t have the answers
I was reminded recently that I don’t have to have all the answers for every situation to contribute powerfully to others. In fact, it is when I don’t have the answers, that I come into more of my power.
A few weeks ago, as a friend and I worked through some frustrations we were both experiencing in our friendship, I saw the subtle ways I still try at times to manage situations or other people or have the answers. (Thank you, Neil!) I saw how this comes out of my needs (sometimes for safety, sometimes a desire for connection…), but is not a strategy that enables others to offer from their resourcefulness. I saw afresh what a gift I can give by listening to another without having the solutions, but just being vulnerable about what is there for me. And in that listening space and in the silence between the words, something new can be created – where both contribute equally.
Am I suggesting that listening will solve the problems of millions of people struggling to find safety, shelter and food in this moment? No – but I am suggesting that we can offer healing in our communities when we create space and fully listen to what each other are needing and longing for and then look together at how the needs might be met.
Give the gift of listening this Christmas
I feel despair when I hear the frequent use of naming, shaming and labeling in our public conversation. The labels come from needs within us that we are not connecting with and which we throw onto others, causing them to dig their heels in and retaliate. I long for a greater vulnerability, where we are willing to get beneath the shaming and talk about what really matters to each other and leave space for the answers to reveal themselves.
Who knows what is possible when we drop labels we have of people being “problems” or “boat people” or “illegals” or “difficult” and just take the time to hear their stories.
I invite you to join me in giving the gift of listening to the people you encounter this Christmas.