Listening to the Voices of the Silenced

I watch the news, read editorials, listen to friends and family and I groan. Had we not made progress last century with the victory of reason over superstition and ignorance. Shouldn’t we be free from conflict and terror: a perfect modern society.  It seems that events of the not-too-distant past have put end to such hopes. 

I remember growing up in a neighborhood where we all lived the same lives. Houses were similar, everyone had a summer vacation, I had friends all over town and we went to school together from kindergarten to graduation. No one seemed any better off than anybody else.  However, I’m not so naive to believe that life “back then” was perfect. As columnist Franklin Pierce Adams stated: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”

I know that it was not an easy time if you were black, gay, a woman or one of the peoples who had been marginalized, brutalized or simply blocked from realizing their full potential. We cannot go back to a country in which any of its citizens dread arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, or abuse by its leaders. Those are the things that I would never wish to return. But what I do miss is the powerful sense of community; the local community I grew up in and a global community that fought for human rights for all its citizens. While more people have a chance to realize their full potential today, there’s a clear attempt to break the society, to make groups fight against one another; one side believing that the other side is evil. It’s far from the dream of creating one people.

Progress is realized when (in addition to health care, education, employment, etc.) there is equality, freedom and a reduction in fear of other citizens and of their own rulers. A society that provides all of its citizens with more options for conducting their lives is better than one which narrowly limits choices or dictates life styles. As I (worry) and listen to the groans of Creation, I can see some redemption. People are politically involved as never before. Ideas are gaining acceptance leading to openings in a society that values the health, safety and dignity of every person in it. 

The challenge is whether we move toward that society or get stuck in the depths. We are in a story with a very long arc, somewhere in an unsteady forward moving spiral with our past and future ancestors. Thus, we must reject the idea that somehow justice will trickle down. We can’t be apathetic or let our fear immobilize us. We owe it to those who came before us and who will come after. This is demanded of us.

Do not be daunted by the world’s grief.
Do justly, now
Love mercy, now
Walk, humbly, now. 
You are not obligated to complete the work but, neither are you free to abandon it. 

The Talmud

Stay informed and gently help others do so. When people become aware, they become willing to help, in whatever form: protest, art, community outreach or an uncomfortable conversation with a relative who says something bigoted at the dinner table. 

Most importantly, acknowledge that there is a role for faith. One of the demands that people of faith have is a sense to not curtail reason.   R.J. Snell, executive director of the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Life at Princeton University opines

We’re trying to understand God. We’re trying to understand transcendence. We’re trying to live in harmony with the all-commanding voice. I think people of faith have the occasion, in the dialogue of cultures, to expand reason and to reverse decline. But then, the call for action is to do theology, think about God, expand reason, which is, in some ways, not a call for action, it’s a call to allow reason to not be squished. 

R.J. Snell, Moment by Moment, September/October, 2022. (in symposium)

PJ Scarr is an Associate Spiritual Director who received her training at the West Virginia Institute for Spiritual Direction.  She offers workshops, small group formation direction, and individual direction (online and in-person) in Charlottesville, VA and Charleston, VA. Contact her at: