On Listening

Yesterday at our weekly staff meeting Amy Oxendale led our devotional time through which she invited us to consider our listening skills. To set the stage she directed us to read a short section from Henri Nouwen’s book, Making All Things New:

“From all that I said about our worried, overfilled lives, it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us. Thus our lives have become absurd. In the wordabsurd, we find the Latin word surdus, which means 'deaf.' A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means 'listening.'”

We all promptly realized that we might be more absurd than we had previously realized and quickly took five minutes of silence in the hopes that our meeting would land closer to obedient.

Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a youth retreat. During my second talk I mentioned that the patriarch Abram had not had a child until he was 86 years old. Later that afternoon a gentleman approached me wanting to ask me some clarifying questions about the talk. As a preacher I always feel affirmed when someone has listened well enough to ask questions. However, the gentleman began his statement with the phrase, “In my Bible it says…that Abram didn’t have Isaac until he was 99 years old.”

I responded, “True enough. However, in our Bible it says that Ishmael, Abram’s first son, was born when Abram was 86.” 

To which the man responded, “Oh yes, I forgot that Sarai made Abram sleep with his concubine, Hagar. Women are always getting men in trouble.” 

And I was reminded that although we read the same words we often hear different things and that all to often the things we hear only reinforce what we already know to be true.

This week we have the privilege of hosting Anthony Brown, an international promoter of peace, for a variety of events on campus. Brown’s primary goal is to bring people together across the many divides that separate us and he does this through the medium of song. “I think music is a metaphor for harmony,” says Brown, “and when you get people who are on opposite sides singing the same songs in the same room, something transformative can happen.”

And I wonder what it would look like to spend more time making harmony and less time crafting arguments? Would the world begin to listen with softened hearts rather than with vigilant ears and would we all begin to lay down our swords and pick up a song?

One of the key assessments that Jesus made of those who were in earshot of his teaching was that they were “ever hearing but never understanding.” My prayer for those of us who are in earshot of Jesus is that this would not be said of us. And so I pray that we would be known as those who understand Jesus because we have taken the time to listen for his voice, to hear his words through others’ ears, and to tune our hearts to his harmonies.

-Pastor Judy