This week I have been working on my last service with one of my congregations. The readings talk about being witnesses. I have been reflecting on what it means to be a witness and I can't go past my very recent experience of our first Deep Listening Festival last weekend. It seems that I have spent a lot of the last week sharing stories with people, listening to the experiences of others and hearing how the participants have responded to the festival. I feel I have witnessed something very special.
So what does it mean to be a witness? It seems so simple, yet so profound. I think there are three aspects to being a witness. You are present, you have an experience and you have a story to share. Being present is not just about attendance, but about allowing yourself to be fully attentive and immersed in what is happening. This seems very rare in today's world, when we are often worrying about the next thing or escaping from being fully present by drifting into the virtual world. Practising presence is vital for our spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
The second part of being a witness is to have an experience. We don't travel through life simply being an observer. Life is about participation. This was my big hope for our festival last weekend. The aim was not for people to turn up, listen and go home; but to really experience something, to be moved, to be changed. The only way we can know if this has happened is if the stories are shared. In the space of a week, I have seen evidence of two artworks that are being created in response to the festival, two poems that have been written, a labyrinth created on the beach, two people who have been moved to act in their areas of influence and a myriad of powerful stories.
The Deep Listening festival is but one example. We are witnesses to love, life and hope every day. It is a challenge to us, however, to not save our 'witnessing' for special occasions. Let us be more present, get involved more in life and share our stories with each other.