For many years of my adult life I was not at all concerned about something that came to my attention much later on: that I was not a good listener. I simply was not aware that I had a problem in that regard. But at some point along the way I learned that listening intently with open ears and open mind is an extremely important element in human relationships — and that I had yet to develop that skill.
Forty years ago, on a typical day off, I’d spend the evening in the home of my widowed mother. Sitting comfortably in the living room in what used to be my father’s TV chair, I would, all at the same time, read TIME Magazine, watch TV, talk on the phone, and listen – I use the word loosely — to news about the family that Mother was trying to share with me from across the room. How often that scenario ended with her saying sweetly, “Dick, dear, I know you didn’t hear a word I said; but that’s alright. I’ll tell you again later.”
And then, long after, I realized that, if we did to our computers and word processors what some of us do to our minds, they would be of no use to us. We foolishly take in data simultaneously from a half dozen sources and think we can adequately process it and store it securely, while the truth is that we can’t. When we don’t really listen, when we don’t turn to the person who is speaking to us and give our undivided attention (the way David Frost used to), we are depriving ourselves of the gift that person is offering and hurting him or her with the response that we don’t consider the message worth our time or energy.
One of the most valuable gifts we can give to persons in our lives is to listen to them and to give clear signs that we are eager to hear and to understand what they are saying, to let them know that we very much want to receive their message. If you think of the persons that make you feel best about yourself, I believe that you will find that they all are good listeners.
Prayer is primarily listening to the Spirit of God. Great people of every station in life listen with their whole hearts and minds to God.
They ask for wisdom and understanding, and then they listen.
They ask for direction and faith, and they listen.
They ask for a loving, forgiving heart, and they listen.
They build that listening into their lives by taking some time each day to be alone and more conscious of the presence of God in them. The aloneness can be in the cocoon of one’s car or of an empty room at home. They learn not to forget or ignore the constant presence of the Divine Spirit within them wherever they are, whatever they are doing.
The readings of today’s liturgy are an excellent case in point. In the first, a boy, David by name, is told that he will be a powerful instrument of God for the good of the people; however, he must first learn to discern the divine message and to prepare to listen to it.
And in the Gospel we heard about the beginnings of Christian discipleship: young people, rugged people of the earth and the sea, called by Jesus and daring to listen to this man who will turn their lives upside down and assure them that in return they will gain far more than what they are asked to give.
It is actually quite simple. But living as we do, in a sandstorm of words and images that seem never to stop or to slow down, we, maybe more than people at any other time in history, have to commit ourselves, with firm intention and determination, to become good listeners.