By Gene Knudsen Hoffman
A talk given in June 1994
“Listening for Truth” was presented as a talk at the June 1994 conference of Pax 2100 in San Jose, Costa Rica. This conference included a visit to the Quaker Settlement in Monte Verde. Pax 2100 is a project for peace initiated by the Goleta Presbyterian Church of California. Its intent is to introduce the peace religions of the world to people who wish to learn about them.
Gandhi once declared that if he had not been born a Hindu, he would have been a Christian because he so revered the teachings of Jesus. He felt that to teach Jesus’ way in India, he had to reveal similar teachings in Hindu scriptures. In one of his booklets he transposed a familiar phrase and gave it new meaning. The title of this booklet is Truth is God. This made a radical change in my thinking. It means to me that anything my mind clings to as Truth is not God and is temporary and transitory; it exists for me until a fuller Truth is revealed.
As a Quaker I believe that revelation is ongoing: God is constantly revealing new Truths to human beings. I also believe that each person may perceive a portion of this Truth, and that listening for new revelations can be a daily discipline.
I am not suggesting that we are to abandon our familiar Truths and religions — only that we open our hearts to those we discover in other people, religions, and parts of the world. I believe God provides everyone with Divine Truth, and peace in 2100 will not come about unless we listen for Truth in peoples, cultures, nations, religions, and interpretations of religions quite different from our own. Because listening will often be difficult, strange, even antithetical to our own perspective, we must listen with the open heart.
Ecclesiastes tells us this when he says, “To everything there is a season, a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to break down and a time to build up …. “Ecclesiastes says to me that nothing is without Truth. God has been revealed to people in a fashion suitable to their time and place. To the Jews was revealed the Torah; to the Christians, the Gospels; to the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita; to the Buddhists, the Sutras; to the Moslems, the Koran.
We are on a journey to learn how the Truths of peace and nonviolence were revealed through different religions. We listen to Quakers to learn how they adopted and practiced Truths in their lives. We may find oursel’~es richer by listening and honoring their experiences. In the quest for peace, we need to open ourselves to new perceptions our culture often denies. And so, we listen.
I am not talking about listening with the human ear. I am talking about “discernment,” which means to perceive something hidden and obscure. We must listen with our spiritual ear, the one inside, and this is very different from deciding in advance what is right and what is wrong and then seeking to promote our own agenda. We must literally suspend our belief and then listen to learn whether what we hear expands or diminishes our sense of Truth.
Our call, as I perceive it, is to see that within all life is the Mystery–God. It is within the African and the Afrikaner, the Iraqi, the Serb, and the American. It is within each religion on earth. Our task is to sift the wheat from the chaff, because in each religion there is both. Through nonjudgmental listening, we may awaken to it in both strange and familiar places and thus learn the God that resides in a religion or in an individual.
For peace to happen, I believe there must be peacemaking groups who can be trusted by all sides, that find the divine in the “enemy,” and carry that message wherever they go.
I began with Gandhi and I shall close with him. I will give you a talisman which has always inspired me. Gandhi reminded us that there exists within each person a power, an energy, equal to the force of an atom bomb — a loving power, a caring power, a healing power for peace. I believe it is time for us to release this power in new ways.