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The Voiceless

WE count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o'er their silent sister's breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them:
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
Whose song has told their hearts' sad story,--
Weep for the voiceless, who have known
The cross without the crown of glory!
Not where Leucadian breezes sweep
O'er Sappho's memory-haunted billow,
But where the glistening night-dews weep
On nameless sorrow's churchyard pillow.

O hearts that break and give no sign
Save whitening lip and fading tresses,
Till Death pours out his longed-for wine
Slow-dropped from Misery's crushing presses,--
If singing breath or echoing chord
To every hidden pang were given,
What endless melodies were poured,
As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

Reflections on 'Voice'

My wife and I recently attended a showing of "Rwanda" - an unforgettable and harrowing experience. One of the things that really struck me was the powerlessness of the persecuted Tutsi tribe. The persecuting Hutus described them as 'cockroaches', and what do we do with 'cockroaches'. Crush and kill! They are not people, they have no value, they have no voice which the persecutors paid any attention to.

Scene after scene unfolded of groups of Tutsi's 'de-voiced', disempowered, their cries for pity, protection, and justice went unheard. So they were killed in their hundreds of thousands, women were captured, gang-raped and then murdered. No voice, no power, no influence.

The word 'voice' can be a powerful metaphor for life and the expression of life. Voices like fingerprints, are unique. What is curious is how often people become 'voiceless'. Either they are unable to speak out about their own experience, or needs, or if and when they do, no one listens and no one cares.

Many die with their songs still within them, their voices unheard. Whatever the Creator had intended for their lives has been unrealized - for one reason or another their presence was unwelcome, so they were unheard, their existence never celebrated.

To be without a 'voice' in this sense means absolute disempowerment and invisibility. A wife whose opinion doesn't count with her husband, a frightened child in the presence of an abusive and bullying mother, a man silent as he is abused unfairly by an employer, a minority group in an oppressive society - these all experience 'voicelessness'. Their own unique contribution to the word, their psychological and spiritual fingerprint is not recorded. Few, if any, listen, or care.

To reflect on the lines from the poem above, it is sad to die, but if you have had a voice, you have had some power, some influence, some say in your own existence. But, if you die without a 'voice' you die unheard, unwitnessed. Your existence has counted for very little, if anything.

- I often encounter the 'voiceless' in therapy. Seemingly, no one wants to hear their unique voice, to hear the cry of their soul. Their joys and sorrows are not received by those around them. They have learned to edit their speech in order to be accepted. This censorship of the soul is also its living death.

A man has his dreams, but his wife and his friends are not interested. After a while he ceases to speak of his dreams, and then ceases to dream, and becomes depressed. Why not, it is the nature of 'soul' to speak, to communicate, and one of the greatest gifts we can give another is to 'listen' (in the sense of really hear the soul, the heart, the core).

For me, one of the most frustrating experiences is to not be understood and valued in terms of my authentic, God-given 'voice'. To be accepted only in terms of what others need or expect from me. But whatever is unique about me is deemed to be unacceptable.

Some years ago I was trying to experience my frustration and hurt at how the Church of which I am a part had shut down its counseling agency and persecuted into early retirement its director. I felt quite passionate about the matter, because many people had not been heard about this matter and the lives of hundreds had been deeply affected.

Rather than being heard I was corrected and told that I should be expressing myself in another way. In short, I was silenced, my voice went unheard. The subject was shifted to the grammatical preferences of another more powerful person. And in that context I made no further effort to communicate. There was no point. My song was still-born.

The powerful of this world have their voices heard, the oppressed do not. This happens at macro and micro levels. Between nations, down to family and neighbourhood.

In counseling I sometimes assist a person to find their voice, and to begin to speak, hesitantly at first, and then with ever-increasing certainty until they own their own soul's true voice. This is an uncomfortable journey for one who had learned to be silent, for them as individuals because it is frightening to learn the skill of speaking - and for those around them who are used to speaking for them, or over them, or simply contradicting them.

God, according to the Bible, speaks. He has a voice to which we are to listen. Hearing His voice is life. "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me." (Rev 3:20). It gives our Creator joy when we hear Him, and grieves Him when we don't. Spiritual intimacy is not possible if we 'do not hear His voice', spiritual guidance is not available, and spiritual death results.

So too between creatures made in the divine image, when we open our hearts to others, and 'hear' their voices, thus welcoming them into our hearts, we in a sense give them life. But when we fail to listen, fail to welcome, choosing intsead to judge and criticize, we devastate the soul which longs for connection, and in a sense impart ... death.

Alternatively, when we attend to the voice of another, not just physically hearing a sound or two, but opening our own hearts to hear their heart, and affirm their right to be here with us, we then impart a blessing, a welcome ... and...life!

David Irwin is the founder of SoulCare - Transformational Counselling and Psychotherapy. David is a minister of religion, a counselling psychologist educator and a well known seminar leader.

David's lifelong passion has been to assist men and women from all walks of life to experience maximum happiness and fulfilment in life. SoulCare's work in bringing about positive change is achieved through transformational counselling for individuals and couples, personal one-on-one coaching and transformational seminars. Details of each of these services are found on his website http://www.soulcare.com.au

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