Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Practice of Listening

To listen, to truly hear what others have to say, involves a certain level of dying to yourself.

I say that because I can be a pretty awful listener and am always seeking to be better.

It's not that I have no interest in what the other person is saying. It's that listening necessarily entails, at least for me, a certain amount of energy devoted to the other person--an energy that sometimes I don't have. Or an energy I don't wish to give.

It involves being present to the other person. Not present to the past or to the future, but the here and now. Sometimes, it's hard to be in the here and now when a lot of things are on your mind.

And, as a huge introvert, I easily get caught up in my own thoughts. In focusing on what is going on within me, I can have a hard time paying attention to what is going on in other people's lives.

True listening, then, is an act of charity, an act of love. When you listen, truly listen, you give yourself over completely to the other person. You attempt to see as the other person sees, to understand as s/he understands, to put yourself in their shoes. You open yourself to share their joy, their happiness, their struggles, their sorrows.

The art of listening, of course, is crucial to the health of any person in a committed relationship. A marriage cannot be sustained without the ability to listen to your spouse. In the same way, listening is an essential component for those in religious life. As God listens to our prayers, so we are called to listen to our brothers and sisters, to those whom we have dedicated our lives to.

But, we are also human, and sometimes we have a hard time listening.

There is something to be said, then, of listening within the spiritual life, in a life of prayer. Just as it is difficult to hear what the other is saying, so is it difficult for us to truly listen to what God is trying to tell us.

Sometimes, we are not attentive to what God is trying to share. Other times, we become hostile to His words, even if they are the exact words we need to hear. We are all loved by God, but sometimes that love manifests itself as a sort of "tough love." It challenges us to look at where we are straying, what we need to be doing different.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

God does not give up on us, though. God's Eternal Word continues to speak to us, dwells deep within us, continually beckoning to be heard. That love, that everlasting gift, is intimately shared with us and takes root if we are receptive to it and allow it to be planted in our hearts.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Let us pray, then, that we may form hearts and minds that seek to listen and hear in the way of Christ. Let us pray for that openness to one another, that we may listen not with judging ears, but ones of charity and understanding. And, let us pray that we may always be receptive and open to God's word, having faith that it brings great light and life to ourselves and to our world.

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