Listening through the Stethoscope

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I’m not ready for this. I’m not wired for a world gone haywire. Like the psalmist, I am “old and gray” (Ps. 71:18), living in a frantic world that makes no sense, knowing that speaking what little I think I have come to know will not reach beyond what remains of a shrinking circle of influence. Even so, I continue to write in the vain hope it may make a difference.

Photo of doctor's stethoscope, laptop, and pair of eye glasses
Aerial view of doctor stethoscope and computer laptop

Listening through the stethoscope

Sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper/blank computer screen is the morning exercise to find my deeper self again. Writing is like a stethoscope to hear what’s inside my chest. Writing taps into the deeper stream of consciousness — sighs and groans too deep for words.

Some days begin and end with a blank page. Other mornings the groaning and sighing summon me to write. Not just for myself, but for others as well. That’s what public theologians do.

Reality and illusion

The Psalter is always close by. The psalms take me deeper. Only then can I go wider. The Psalms are poetry. They are not prescriptions. They are the naked, honest, unfiltered, uncensored expressions of what the psalmist feels and thinks in that moment. The psalmist is exposed. No secret is hidden. No pride left unmasked. Every Illusion of grandeur blown away by the wind.

The three year-old and the-man-in-the-radio

The poet of Psalm 71 is old and gray. So am I. Listening through the stethoscope, I hear unresolved sighing and groaning from early childhood.

I am three years-old, sitting around the dining room table with my grandparents and my mother. My mother and I are living with Grandpa and Grandma Stewart in Chestnut Hill, MA. My father is in the big war somewhere far, far away. Every night, Grandpa looks at his watch, stops eating, leaves the table, and walks over to the big brown radio. He pushes a button to let the man-in the-radio talk to us. “Shhhhh,” says Grandpa, as I continue talking. “We need to be real quiet so we can hear the news.” The man-in-the-radio begins to talk. He’s serious. He’s not fun, but no one is afraid of him. Everyone listens carefully.

Some nights the man-in-the-radio stops to let another man in the radio talk. The other man is not nice. He’s not kind. He’s mean. He’s angry. He’s scary. Even for Grandpa! I watch the faces of my mother, grandpa and grandma as they listen for news about the big war far, far away where my father is the Army Chaplain. My father is the only one on Saipan who doesn’t have a gun. He may not make it home or he might come home dead.

Photo of my father, the Chaplain, leading worship on Saipan.
Protestant Service on Saipan, end of WWII.

Honoring a promise

I am old and gray and hard of hearing, but I have a stethoscope. I still hear the groaning and sighing in my chest and I still hear the madman in the radio. I determined early in life that if Adolf Hitler won the war and came to Chestnut Hill, I would not be silent. I would not stay seated. I would stand up. I would speak up! I would tell what I know and not let go, for the sake of generations yet to come.

 And now that I am old and grey-headed, O God, do not forsake me,
     til I make known Your strength to this generation
     and Your power to all who are to come. (Ps. 71:18 BCP).

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 3, 2021.