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The Pensive Catholic - Listening

Posted by: Arthur Powers on Jul/14/2014


“Do you speak French?” my grand daughter asks.

“Not really.”

“Then how do you know they’re speaking French?”

We’re sitting at a table at a small hotel in Costa Rica.  She had heard people conversing at the next table and asked me what language they were speaking.  I told her.

I have to think.  “It’s like music,” I tell her.  “You listen to the sound – like listening to different composers and knowing which one wrote the piece.”

She’s eleven, but she can distinguish Bach from Mozart, either from the Romantics.  She listens to the neighboring conversation.  “I hear it,” she says. 

My mind goes back 46 years to when I was in Peace Corps training, learning Portuguese.  I had almost no talent for learning languages – I still don’t.  It took me months to hear the difference between the “o”s in avô (grandfather) and avó (grandmother).

But once I did hear the difference, it became obvious.   

Elijah didn’t hear God’s voice in the roaring wind, the earthquake, the blazing fire.  He heard it in the whispering breeze (1 Kings 19: 11-13).

Was God NOT in the roaring wind, the earthquake, the fire?  Of course He was – He is everywhere.  But Scripture is teaching us something. 

Listening requires patience, humility, silence, opening ourselves to something outside ourselves.  It is not always obvious.  To listen, we need to hear nuances, to hear below, around, beyond the words that we hear. 

Our Quaker friend, Vicki Armor-Heilman, taught us in meditation not to ignore the sound around us, but to listen to the nearest sound, then out beyond it to the furthest sound, then beyond the furthest sound.  Beyond the furthest sound is silence – not dead silence, but vibrant, living silence.  The same silence we hear in our hearts when we sit in Christian contemplation. 

Listen.  Train your ears.  Train your heart.  Listen. 

It is hard at first.  You don’t hearhear.  

But then, gradually, you do.