About a dozen years ago a radio producer began something simple: he opened a story booth in Grand Central Terminal in New York City where people could bring, as he says, “your grandmother, your aunt, a friend… to a comfortable, sound-proof booth and conduct a 40-minute interview with the help of a trained facilitator. You walk away with a broadcast-quality CD and, with your permission, a second copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.” The project is in several cities now, and has hosted over 10,000 interviews. A collection of the stories was a NY Times bestseller in 2007, and things have continued to grow since then. The project considers itself to be a public service, with the hope that it will be a tool that will “build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” The book is entitled Listening is an Act of Love

The first section of the book focuses on “Home and Family”, and contains an excerpt in which a man interviewed his grandfather, a WWII B26 pilot. At the end of the interview the grandson told his grandfather what a great inspiration he had been to him, and thanked him for doing the interview. The grandfather replied, “It was very special for me. Just looking at you and answering you with your eyes looking into mine and mine into yours, it’s just been great. It really has.” The younger man says, “I love you, grandpa,” and the older man replies, “I love you, Seth.” Not a lot of dry-eye stuff in the book, I suspect (I’ve just discovered it and not finished it).

Last week we took a look at Silence. This week, during our Lenten journey, we’re looking at Listening. These are related and they are what I consider to be implicit spiritual disciplines. What I mean is that while anyone can enjoy silence and anyone can listen (and possibly be good at it), I believe both silence and listening are best and are most deeply honest when done out of an inner person that is connected to God’s presence and love. I believe that most often, maybe always, these two disciplines either lead us to or at least point us towards God—should we have the eyes to see him.

A formed inner life in God equips me to listen to the other, because out of that inner life I am enabled to acknowledge the other’s reality and particularity.

Listening calls upon me to recognize that while my life is gift, so too is that of the other. God causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust, and God gives life to us. If I can trust God with today and with my well-being then I am in a better place to let other stories be, and to participate with them in the manner that God may have for me regarding that particular story. But I’ll have to give it some space to hear both that other person and to hear God.

Three assumptions about listening that I believe are helpful to clarify:

–      Listening is not passive, at least it need not be. It is simply a place from which to begin well with whatever interaction with the other is good and right.

–      Listening is not agreeing. We’ve all known the person who refuses to acknowledge he or she has been heard until he or she is deemed right, but those are not the same things.

–      Listening is not always warm and fuzzy. Instead, it may lead to seeing things we’d rather not see but that are going on in another person. Indeed, we may see things that the other is not willing to admit to him or herself. Listening can be painful, as well, such as truly hearing someone’s stories of grief loss.

All of this circles us back to the at-least-implicitly-spiritual nature of good listening: it is best done if we start by having a habit in our own lives of listening to God.  Let us, for a little while, allow our prayers not to be about fears or worries, or complaints. Rather, let our prayers simply tell God that we are here: we are present, we love him, we are ready to listen to what he would say to us in whatever particular moment we are living. Out of this, as well as engagement with the Scriptures and other good spiritual disciplines, our own inner person is formed and made robust. Our connection to God is such that, as he loves us, so are we able to share that love with others; as we learn to listen to him, so he helps us learn to truly hear others.

Listening is an act of love, and thereby makes a good Lenten practice, as well.

May Jesus Christ be praised,

Fr Tim