As I walk through the back door of the small building, I hear the low chatter from the group down the hall, feel the familiar warmth that comes with rooms filled with food and conversation.
Tonight is our last meeting and I briefly think back to that night in February when we met for the first time – how I was nervous to come because I only knew two of the people who would be here. And both of them were men.
Since then, we have gathered in the downstairs level of this small church, a healthy mix of both men and women – various ages and life stages. But it isn’t for Bible study and it isn’t a class.
There are no experts here.
We come as artists – that is the common ground where we meet. But we aren’t here to sell or showcase our art. Instead, we are here to enter into a safe community of people who are (as the gathering description says) “dedicated to the idea that we can’t do it alone, and that our hurts and egos and insecurities are keeping us from more perfect expression.”
This is The Listening Room, a bench for artists.
Most nights we sit in a wide circle in this basement and have conversation around pre-determined topics designed to uncover the artist behind the art. But tonight is our final meeting, and so they have pushed the long tables together to make a square in the center of the room, spread it with a disposable cloth, set out painted mason jars filled with pom pom tissue flowers.
We share a family dinner, conversation, and our art.
There are guitars and singing, autobiography and novel readings, sketches and paintings, creatures and clay. When it’s my turn, I read a few pages from the last chapter of A Million Little Ways, my book no one has read yet.
We end the night thankful, making plans to gather for a meal again now that The Listening Room is over.
Alone on my drive home, I realize I’m gripping the steering wheel and breathing more shallow than normal. I can’t stop tapping my left leg.
I feel alive and kind of terrified.
What is this? I wonder. Why was that so hard for me, to read my words in front of them? I’m supposed to be used to this kind of thing by now.
It’s true, over the past two years I’ve done a fair amount of speaking in front of people. I’ve given talks and led workshops. I have used microphones.
So why is it that reading my words in a dimly lit church basement among twenty kind artists ushers my body into trembling?
As I drive, words come to mind that offer an explanation for this feeling – they are words I read from someone quoting Brene Brown and immediately it comes to me: this isn’t fear I’m feeling.
This is vulnerability.
In this moment, I recognize the difference, take note of what this feels like.
Fear tells me to run away from connection.
Vulnerability dares me to run towards it.
It turns out the emotional line between those two experiences is fragile and thin.
This is what happens when we create rooms for listening. In these kinds of rooms, people meet on benches and share a common experience. And we stay engaged by being curious over people, the image bearers of God. But for me, in rooms like this, it’s important to share, too.
Part of listening is coming alive in the presence of others as we watch them come alive in our presence as well.
What are the listening rooms in your life? Do you have any? Do you need some?