"Have a Christmas that whispers Jesus."
The words spoke to me. They jumped off the page, immediately bringing to mind how a Montessori teacher gets the full attention of 25 screaming 4 year-olds in an instant.
Then the room goes silent.
A Christmas that whispers Jesus. The words sounded so gentle.
The way I imagine Jesus to be...especially towards women. Why do we sometimes go on the defensive at hearing the name Jesus?
For me, it was the years when trying to find a church and instead, found more angry or politically inclined pastors than Christlike ones - some even rolled their eyes animating disdain for people in need, the left leaning, or immigrants. I didn't even fit those labels well, but shuddered at the spirit. What was that? I simply wanted a church that would get me, and also be alive in the spirit - in other words, not just lip service and empty ritual; or people tolerant toward me because their prayers would make me a better Christian.
I didn't want to conform to their idea of what a Christian should be - I yearned to know God's desire for me.
Plus, I struggled to resonate with their personal imagery and understanding of God. It's no wonder I was lost and couldn't hear his whisper - his whisper to me.
He probably hoped I'd hear him - and I did - sort of. I just didn't follow his voice all the way back to where it came from. I kept looking for it in places where his name was often spoken, and still didn't feel I was touching his spirit. One day it dawned on me that when I followed his voice vigilantly, it was leading me to places I didn't expect to find him.
He was in the beat of the drum I played in the circle. He was in that moment a deep sob ends...that half stunted breath that catches all the other breaths up. He always peeked in right there. He was in the hand squeeze at the close of a 12-step meeting when people said in unison, "Keep Coming Back. It works if you work it!" He was in the warmth that came from my Reiki healer's hands. He was in many unlikely places.
I've been like a broken record in my quest for the Jesus I remember...the Jesus who loved and didn't want me to hide my light under a bushel - even if I was a woman.
I remember that Jesus well.
There are many Christians who ridicule those who seek Sunday School Jesus. Let them. If they don't remember that Jesus, perhaps they should be reacquainted.
I grew up in an immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood that didn't leave a lot of room for kindness. I also grew up in Norway where there was a smorgasbord of it. Brooklyn was a dog eat dog world - and I made my best run at it. Place does have a way of characterizing people. Brooklynites and Norwegians were worlds apart on the outside.
The Brooklynites were blunter, rougher; definitely no bull shit kind of people. It was a 'get over it" culture. Norway was gentler...and kinder. You can feel their embrace in hello. They were warm and sincere people; not the blunt and raw honesty that characterized my Brooklyn neighbors. This honesty stung sometimes, but you always knew they had your back - and where you stood. There was a lot to be said for that kind of trust and bluntness. I learned to appreciate both approaches to life.
The scrappy city neighbors prayed to the same Jesus I did, even if their church spoke Latin. I was often befuddled when I went to mass, but to each his own we'd say. Our variation of beliefs never seemed an issue. It just was - and kept things interesting. Diversity was part of the wonder in the melting pot of New York City.
I knew whispering Jesus. At 17, it was he who held me the night my father unexpectedly died on a New York City sidewalk helping an orphan get a home.
Jesus rocked me to sleep those first nights without my dad, until I could doze off alone.
It was he who laid his hand on my head ever so softly when my sister would rage at me from behind her demonic look. Her mental illness manifested itself as a tyrant out to kill me in daily random attacks with no warning. This illness that tormented my sister, followed me like a stalker. I learned to deal with conflict and feel helpless at rage. But in each attack, I felt his touch on me, reminding me love was something I could always believe in - even in the face of unbridled hate.
He was always whispering.
I'd forgotten that Jesus whispers.
Of course he does.
Jesus taught the world how to whisper!
I've had some experience as a whisperer too...in another life not too long ago.
In my work as a peacemaker in volatile situations, there are interesting challenges. On western public lands, cowboys and ranchers were facing losing their livelihoods because grazing was thought to be destructive to riparian areas and plant diversity. The American public and environmentalists were threatening to cut their leases if they didn't leave. I was there to help find another way.
Finding new ways that honor everyone involved is not an easy task. Mainly because we are working in systems. Not a linear production line. Natural systems of people, values, animals, histories, etc. This called for more than one solution. It would take more than dialogue and planning or fighting and lawyers. It called for a holistic and thoughtful approach that included some out of the box thinking too.
What about cow whispering?
Sure, it was a long shot. The various new ideas I proposed to these dyed in the wool, old school ranchers deserved eye rolls, but they decided it was a better alternative than the loss of their culture, treasured family traditions, and saying goodbye to generations of farmers and ranchers on the land - now and into the future. Not to mention, the almost certain sale of their land to developers for subdivisions. Subdivisions were their worst nightmare in this vast, open space. This land was part of who they were. These families and their ancestors had lived interdependently with this land and marked it with their blood, sweat, and tears from generation to generation. There was little delineation that marked where the land ended and they began.
So, guess who learned how to whisper cows? Sort of, anyway.
Yes, cows get whispered too. They're not widely known for being whispered to but it happens. When cows are herded by a whisperer, I'm pretty sure they think they've died and gone to heaven after years of hollering cowboys and the unmistakable whoosh of a threatening lasso.
There are some tricks to being an effective whisperer...and they work on people too.
A whisperer isn't a wimp - as some cowboys think. They are cooperators and collaborators who honor those they are working with. A whisperer can be a scrappy and blunt Brooklyn type with a loud bark; or a warm, soft spoken Norwegian. It's not the outside that counts.
It's all in the heart and approach.
It was a revelation to realize the qualities of a good whisperer are the fundamental characteristics of Jesus. How did I miss this?
Here are some important aspects to being a good whisperer...
Take time to understand them.
Animals and people need to be seen. This does not refer to eyesight, but to being understood. It's important to pay attention to subtleties of behavior to really understand someone. For instance, someone may act confident and outgoing, but a closer look reveals anxiety when meeting one to one. Don't expect people (or animals) to respond the way you want when you first meet. There are always other dynamics at work beneath the surface at the start of every relationship. I remind myself of the acronym, T.I.M.E. Things I Must Earn (or, in some cases, Experience). The time you spend up front to understand each other will eliminate much heartache and time later.
Find out what they like, and how they were raised. What was their family like, or environment? What do they enjoy doing? Are the thrill seekers or homebodies? Look for the subtleties as they share their lives with you. Pay attention to eye contact and body language. The time you take to understand them will provide cues and compassion for the relationship in the long term, and help them feel safe.
Hang out with each other.
...without the need to accomplish anything. Hang out together simply because you want to, not because you want something from them. Allow your voice to reflect the gentleness of your heart when you speak. You are building trust, and providing a non-threatening space. The minute an animal (or a person) feels fear, they're inclined to shut down - and cease getting to know you. When our defenses are up, our energy is busy holding up the wall - refracting our ability to hear someone's gentle heart. This is a fundamental problem with people who have a loud bark - it takes longer to see through the smoke and mirrors of a intimidating and self protective bark to the sincerity of a gentle heart.
Be kind and gentle. (hearted).
Although it's helpful to speak softly when building trust, it's ok to raise your voice in glee or a passionate response. The main thing, even if you communicate loudly, is you never shame or humiliate them. Your communication is always kind and gentle hearted to build them up and encourage them. This results in trust.
4.Learn their language.
The time you've taken to understand them in the beginning of the relationship will pay off when learning their language. Language is communicated through sound, body, eyes, and action. Observe how they respond to others and you. I worked with a "cow whisperer" named Bud Williams who could herd a thousand head of cattle on foot with a simple movement. There was no need for screaming Yeehaws, loud whips, or stampeding and galloping horses to intimidate them to move. He learned that a cow can't see directly behind them, so when cowboys came galloping up on a horse, the cow couldn't see them! And when they did see them, it was generally sudden and coupled with aggressive motion right behind them. They were scared to death! A cow's eyes are on the sides of their head, so Williams discovered light pressure on both sides - where the cow could see them - pushed a cow forward. It works beautifully - and calmly! No more stampedes or stressed out cows. Just cows out for a walk on the grass...
Learning their language made all the difference. This is how they follow each other if you ever have a chance to observe them. It's also how a predator follows them from behind as well.
Respect their space.
Know the boundary between you - don't get too close, too fast. This communicates respect and makes them feel safe.
Cow and Horse whisperers know this too. These large herbivores don't have good eyesight. When we're far away, they can't distinguish if we're a tree or a jaguar. Their ability to focus on something is at a much closer range than human eyes. Consequently, they can't determine how to negotiate what's there. In the same vein, if we approach them too quickly without time to process what's there, crossing the imaginary boundary between our space and theirs causes them to spook - react. Usually it's by startling and taking off, but they can also become aggressive. When we're taking time to understand them and learning their language, we'll learn where there natural boundary is in regards to physical space.
Once you figure this out, respect it. For their sake, and yours.
When I first moved out west from New York City and Washington DC, I'd converse with people the same way I did back east. One day, a cowboy I knew (a good friend) asked if he could tell me something on his mind. He shared that he sometimes felt uncomfortable when we talked - because I got too close. A New Yorker would've said I was in his face. I'd spent so many years on the subway during rush hour - where there was no personal space between people - and now lived in a culture where a cowboy on the range might not see someone for days in midsummer. I had to re-learn where personal space began and ended in this new culture. This never occurred to me. Keep this is mind if you're in a new place or culture. It works in reverse too. (p.s. this same cowboy became my best friend and partner for 10 years)
Keep clear boundaries.
Manage your expectations with each other by knowing where your boundaries are. Communicate what is acceptable, and what isn't to each other. Know your limits and stick to them. If a horse likes to bury his head in your neck, let him if you like it - but don't allow him to push you until you lose your balance. Teach him how far he can go. This is also true when he steps on your toe....
Interact in whatever way is acceptable - sometimes this is defined by the culture, circumstances, environment, or personalities. Allow the communication to flow - and stay in the safe zone, not raising controversial or threatening subjects. Keep paying attention to body language. Are they leaning back, away from you? Or leaning in as if they want to hear you better? Are arms crossed or open? Are they looking in your eyes or averting you? Paying attention while interacting is a great teacher. Interaction of any kind is exercise. It builds muscle. Sometimes, just do a simple task together, or throw a ball around. This kind of interaction is non-threatening. Eat a meal together while discussing your daughter's upcoming wedding, or how busy your week has been. Learn to simply be in the presence of one another. This is as powerful with animals as people.
Listen. Really listen.
Listen with all your senses. Observe how they interact with others. How they move. How they do what they do. Then help them accomplish what they like to do...while responding to their behavior - working with it, not forcing your behavior on them - even if you think your way is best. It is not their way. Their way is the only way. Period.
Animals will respond to you if you feed them. We all know this. They know the path of least resistance, and will do most anything to be fed. People are a little different - unless they're starving. With humans, we have to feed them in other ways too. Jesus fed people spiritually. He fed their souls and filled their hearts with hope. You can do this with people too.
Accept them (be sure they feel you accept them before asking them to do anything.)
Be humble and unmistakingly clear about who you are.
When working with animals, never look them directly in the eye. This is the behavior of a predator. It will automatically trigger a fright or flight response. Humility (and looking down when communicating), while asking for what you want lets them know this is being asked of them, not forced on them. Just like humans, animals don't want to be managed top down, but they will cooperate with you willingly if they feel you have their best interest at heart. They will be clear that you are the authority, but you also care. This is the sign of a good parent - and a whisperer.
Forgive them (when they don't do what you ask them to.)
If an animal being whispered (or a child being taught), doesn't do something correctly the first time, be patient with them. Don't shame them into getting it right, and respect their limits on any given day. There might be something else going on that we can't see - like a sore back, or a stone in their hoof. Don't assume they are simply difficult or stubborn. Give them a benefit of the doubt, and if they don't get it right - forgive them. Compassion and understanding are powerful tools towards good relationships. A good whisperer also makes them try again if they fail...that's what love looks like in healthy relationships. As long as it's safe and they're not burnt out.
Be a good friend.
Be reliable, trustworthy, consistent, attentive, helpful.
The thing about whispering is it's ok to be who you are when you're fully present.
It's all about trust....
...and how honest your heart is.
If your spirit activates fear, you're not there yet.
That's the Jesus way.
Sunday School Jesus was Whispering Jesus.
Jesus was the original whisperer.