Call to Compassion: Hearing the Open Outcry

Open Outcry

By Benjamin Pratt

During our tour of the Windy City, we passed the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Our guide surprised us by explaining that the method of trading in the pit is not electronic. Instead, hand gestures are used to communicate the buy-and-sell information in a system traditionally known as Open Outcry.

Open Outcry—I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. For more than a century, that phrase has captured the emotional, split-second, make-or-break trading system that fuels a major part of our economy. There are online histories of Open Cry, guides to learning the Open Cry system and even a documentary film about Open Cry that aired on PBS.

Yet, somehow, I hadn’t heard that phrase until our tour of Chicago—or had I?

Following our tour, I talked with other travelers including two men from New Jersey. We were struck by the beauty and opulence of Chicago as well as the street people begging for money. The conversation about our day turned into a discussion of economics and taxes.

One of the men spoke with a quiet passion, “I don’t mind that a lot of people make a lot of money.  That’s the way of our system. What really bothers me is that so many children in our nation don’t have food for breakfast or they go to bed hungry at night.”

Then, I remembered the open outcries I knew so well—from Psalms, Isaiah and Jeremiah to Amos and even to Mary in her vision of God finally establishing justice in our world. As the Book of Common Prayer quotes Mary’s lines: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seat; and has exalted the humble and the meek. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent away empty.”

That’s why the phrase kept haunting me. In our faith tradition, we are supposed to know all about the open outcry. Perhaps the numbers (46.7 million Americans are now in poverty) are too huge to wrap our heads and hearts around in a way that personalizes the question. We feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of this issue. Or maybe we are so absorbed in our own concerns that there is no room for others. Or perhaps our imagination has shriveled because we have embraced American individualism and materialism to the point that our memory and our vision have atrophied.

Money is not the issue. What we do with our money is the issue. What we do with our money personally and nationally is a spiritual issue, a moral issue, an issue of our soul.

As people of faith, we are called to welcome the Open Outcry. It’s not an arcane system of signals that we can claim to have forgotten. Those of us with even modest means need to respond with compassion. Even humble Mary is crying out the vision to us today: Our God leads us toward exalting the humble and filling the hungry with good things.

If we truly attune our ears and hearts, we can welcome this Open Outcry. In hearing and responding lies our own salvation as a community.

Benjamin Pratt and ReadTheSpirit invite you to share this column with friends, or even to reproduce the entire column in your own website or newsletter. Please, credit Benjamin Pratt and

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor and author. He has written two books: One focuses on the spiritual lessons in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, when read in parallel with the Bible’s book of James. The other is our new Guide for Caregivers about keeping your spirits healthy when responsibilities are dragging you down.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email