Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Sunday, 12 May 2013

the art of listening

service from 12th May 2013 - the art of listening

"The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear or the mind. Hence it demands emptiness of all of the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind." -Chuang-Tzu

 “When you talk you repeat what you already know, when you listen, you often learn something.” Jared Sparks - Born 1789

These two books by Kay Lindahl informed the following address.


I am going to begin today by asking you a question.
Are you listening?   
Are you really listening?   
If I asked you this question in the course of the day then generally the answer will be yes – but it will only be yes because my question has prompted you to pay attention and I would wonder if you were really listening before I asked the question.   
Of course when I ask the question from here in the pulpit then I expect the answer to be yes because this is the beginning of my address and I would hope that it is the one bit that you would actually be listening to if not all the way through.  But, I ask you to consider the scenario of a couple at home, maybe after one or both of them has come in from work and wants to unburden some of their day.  How often does the partner really listen, how often do they only appear to be listening – and how often are those words uttered, possibly with an exasperated tone – 
‘Are you listening to me?’   
Have you ever asked that question? Or, more importantly have you had the question asked of you?

What was it Kay Lindahl said in my second reading? “Perhaps one of the most precious and powerful gifts we can give another person is to really listen to them, to listen with quiet, fascinated attention, with our whole being, fully present.

How often do we give that gift to another person, especially to the ones we love?  It is not always easy, to listen in such a way, and yet it is something that we really should endeavour to try and do.  Listen, and listen fully.

One of the ways in which we show that we are not really listening is when we jump in with an answer inappropriately – maybe at the wrong time or with the wrong words.  We don’t only have to think about listening but we also need to think about the words we use and the way we use them.
Kay Lindahl says about words and conversation:

Words, words, words, words. When we talk with each other, you may think we are having a discussion, when what I expected was a dialogue.
    Dialogue comes from the Greek dia, which means 'through,' combined with logos. Dialogue literally means words flowing through. In a flow of conversation, new understandings emerge that might not have been present otherwise. Dialogue, conducted in a spirit of enquiry and a genuine desire to understand, is an open-ended exploration.

Discussion though is rather different, Kay says:
    Discussion comes from the Latin dis, which means 'apart,' and quatere, 'to shake'. Discussion has the same root as percussion and concussion, meaning to break things up. In a conversation each person is analysing the subject, looking for answers, results or agreement.
    There is another way to distinguish these words. Discussion leads from the intellect. Dialogue leads from the heart. Each can certainly be based on either heart or intellect, but the overall context is different. One is not better than the other - both are valid means of communicating. It's simply useful to know where you are.
   Most of the time we dance back and forth between discussion and dialogue. We make no distinction, which often leads to misunderstandings. If I think we are having an open-ended exploration and you think we are going to resolve a problem, we are really in two different kinds of conversations. Distinguishing which type of conversation we are having leads to greater understanding.
    There are also topics that seem to be nondiscussable. No one mentions them - they are just there, underneath the surface, blocking deep heart-to-heart communication. The dialogue process provides a safe space for these conversations.
We live in a world that blurs the lines between dialogue and discussion.

There is too, the time when words themselves hold a hidden meaning. Often in the Jesus story we hear how Jesus taught by using parables – disguising his real message within a story so that ‘Only those with ears to hear’ would truly understand. (Those words appear at least on nine occasions in the gospel stories.) And how often did Jesus have to admonish his disciples for not understanding.   

We too disguise our feelings and our messages by not always articulating them clearly, in fact by just plain hiding them.  How often the question, ‘How are you today?’ is answered with ‘Well, I am okay – but how are you?’  That okay can hide a multitude of things, it can mean ‘well physically I feel  alright but when it comes to my feelings well I’m not okay, in fact I’m really depressed.’ Or conversely ‘I feel okay in my head but the pain my arthritis is causing is really not good today.’ But rather than go into it we gloss over it with – ‘I am ok’ and then evade giving more information by batting the question back with, ‘and how are you?’   

Do we hear those hidden messages or do we pick up on the deeper meaning?

Of course in our conversations we don’t only have to consider the words, an important part of valuable conversation is being able to use silence or allow silence to occur.  But we often have problems with silence.  Kay Lindahl again asks:

Have you ever noticed the discomfort with silence in our culture?
Think about the last time someone called for a moment of silence in a public gathering.” . . . or, perhaps when I ask you to be silent during the meditative prayer. “The first ten to fifteen seconds are usually comfortable. After that, people tend to get restless and cough, rustle paper, cross and uncross their legs, clear their throats.
Well it is the same in a conversation, just think about how you react to a silence or a lull in a conversation.
It's as though there is an unwritten rule that whenever there's a hint of silence, someone must fill the vacuum with a rush of words. We start to talk faster and faster. Listening quickly takes a back seat to talking.
The power of silence though, gives us breathing room. There is wisdom in the silence. It can alter our perceptions and ability to see what is happening.
It can give clarity in the midst of apparent chaos."

Kay Lindahl suggests that there are three qualities that are essential to the practice of deep listening and these are silence, reflection and presence.
• Silence, she says, creates the space for listening to God. It provides time to explore our relationship to the Source of our being, whatever we take that source to be. Not only does it allow this connection with our inner selves but the practice of being in this silence can nurture our capacity to listen to others.
• Reflection gives us access to listening for our inner voice. The practice of taking a few breaths before responding to a situation, question or comment gives time for your true wisdom to reveal itself. It's a slowing down, waiting, practising patience.
• Presence is the awareness of listening to another, of connecting at the heart level. The practice of taking a mundane, ordinary activity and giving it your full attention, for example washing your hands or brushing your teeth, trains your concentration and your ability to be in the present moment with another. This is often known as the practice of mindfulness that is espoused in the Buddhist tradition and especially by the Tibetan monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Often listening can be a valuable spiritual practice, whether it is listening to others or just being silent with ourselves and listening to our internal voice.  It is only when we practice being silent that we can hear that inner voice – that is often referred to as the ‘still, small voice’ that sometimes can be felt in times of meditative prayer.
The Catholic priest Henri Nouwen says this about the art of contemplation and silence.

The word is born in silence, and silence is the deepest response to the word.

This practice of silent listening is important for our spiritual wellbeing – an area that we often forget to nourish in our busy, daily lives.

Kay Lindahl says:

Connecting with the sacred in daily life leads to a sense of inner peace, even in the midst of chaos. We experience a wholeness that transcends our differences. We find ourselves in community, with feelings of gratitude and growing compassion for others.

Continue this practice into our conversations with each other and we will find that ....
When we talk to each other about our fears and dreams, we open up the space for hope. When we learn how to listen to ideas that conflict with our own without becoming defensive, our hearts begin to open and we start to see each other as part of one human family. We connect at a deep level. When we practice the sacred art of listening, we also learn the art of conversation. It is this type of conversation that can transform our world.

Maybe this is how we will be able to bring about peace in our world by truly listening.
   So may it be.  Amen.        

We concluded with the hymn Do You Hear? (No: 33 - Hymns for Living)

Do you hear, 0 my friend, in the place where you stand,
Through the sky, through the land, do you hear, do you hear,
In the heights, on the plain, in the vale, on the main,
In the sun, in the rain, do you hear, do you hear?

Through the roar, through the rush, through the throng, through the crush,
Do you hear in the hush of your soul, of your soul,
Hear the cry fear won't still, hear the heart's call to will,
Hear a sigh's startling trill, in your soul, in your soul?

From the place where you stand, to the outermost strand,
Do you hear, 0 my friend, do you hear, do you hear,
All the dreams, all the dares, all the sighs, all the prayers-
They are yours, mine, and theirs: do you hear, do you hear?

As I said to the congregation sometimes we don't need the address we could just sing the hymn!!