This morning during daily Mass, my family and I sat in the first pew. As the priests were processing in, I didn’t stand up. For those of you non-Catholic readers out there, that is a normal time in the so-called ‘Catholic aerobics’ to stand up. From someone’s vantage point in the back of the church that act of not standing up probably looked pretty disrespectful. From where they were sitting they might have had a whole host of thoughts about my lack of standing. Was I protesting the priest? The vestments? The entire Catholic Church? The Pope? A lack of women priests? If that back-pew-sitter wasn’t careful they could have made a whole lot of judgments about the fact that I wasn’t standing. For all I know, they may have even thought about kicking me out of the church this morning for my lack of respect or reverence.
A wise priest was once giving me counsel on communication with my marriage. He shared with me a metaphor that I return to often – somewhere it is drawn out on one of his patented half-sheets of paper he’d write out for me during our spiritual direction appointments. Sometimes, what we are tempted to do in communication is to pull out baseball bats. One person lodges some hurtful comment and we whip out our bats, standing at the ready to whack the ball straight back into their faces.* Instead, we would be far better off to pull out our catcher’s mitt, ready to receive their words and seek to understand their perspective, their reasons, their hurt.
So that back-pew-sitter could have been thinking all kinds of things about me this morning. They could have been back their stewing about all the sacrifices they made this morning just to come to Mass and there I was, sitting, and being a disrespectful oaf. Their metaphoric baseball bat may have been at the ready. Or, they could have a mitt out, ready to receive some logical reason for my lack of standing. Had they come up (presumably after Mass) to ask me, I would have simply told them: oh, actually, I love the Church! I respect this priest! I was simply nursing my small child and standing while nursing is incredibly difficult. …and situation and tensions diffused.
Whether it is sitting during part of Mass or taking a knee or staying in the locker room for the national anthem, the fact of the matter is that if we sit (or stand or kneel!) and judge the actions of others without first seeking to understand and actually receive what they are saying, then we only know part of the story. That back-pew-sitter could have assumed any number of things about me, sounded off to their friends, or Twitter, or a bunch of journalists, and been completely wrong in his assumptions.
We could, of course, sit back and lodge those metaphorical baseballs at each other, endlessly swinging back and forth. However, I am raising a two-year old and I know how well that goes (it doesn’t). One of us (the parent, the child, the President, the football players, the media, whoever) has to be the bigger person, listen, receive what the other is saying, seek to understand and go from there. If, however, we continue to swing the bats back and forth then rest assured, we won’t be getting anywhere productive anytime soon.
*it wasn’t until last night as I was meditating upon the metaphor that I realized the statistical unlikelihood of being able to continually hit a baseball back and forth with two baseball bats between people, but you get the point 😉