Recently, during the practice of lectio divina with a small group of friends, the chosen scripture text was Psalm 62:1-2.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock, my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”
As is the practice with lectio divina, you eventually narrow your focus and attention to one word and you meditate on that one word. It is in those moments of meditation that your being becomes still and in that stillness God speaks in various and wondrous ways. I felt drawn to the word “silence.”
For God along my soul waits in silence…
my soul waits in silence…
I find it is increasingly difficult for me to be silent. The world is a noisy place and if I’m silent, I might not get heard; I might not get noticed; I might find myself last in line. Additionally, more and more, I feel the pressure to say the “right” thing—so much so, that even when I think I’m listening—I’m actually crafting what I’m going to say next. So—I’m not really listening.
Earlier this week, a bit of “1st world” chaos was swirling and it was rattling my existence. I was stressed with too many left-overs on the daily to-do list. Things were noisy and anxiety was building. In that moment, I remembered that I had failed to return a phone call from earlier in the day. It was late but, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
My friend and spiritual confidant, Kim answered. She asked if I had time to “listen” to something. (Listen? Right now? Really? Okay! I agreed to listen.) Kim wanted to read to me a devotional that she had prepared to share with her co-workers at a morning staff meeting the next day. (As spiritual confidants, Kim and I test our theological grounding and understandings with each other on a regular basis.)
I put my computer to sleep, turned off the television and gave her my undivided attention. The house went silent and her voice began to speak.
I “listened” intently.
Here are the words she spoke:
When I was a young girl I liked to talk. I liked to talk so much that I was often admonished for it on my report cards. Beginning in the first grade and carrying all the way through my elementary years, my teachers wrote things like “Kim talks too much.” “Kim needs to be quiet during class.” “Kim is talkative.” One teacher even went so far as to bellow across the classroom one afternoon, “Would you shut up?” But increasingly I find that I like to listen as I get older. I particularly like to listen while I walk the greenway.
I like the way cardinals call out “pretty, pretty, pretty” as they flit from tree to tree. The sound reminds me of my grandfather. He used to tell me what the birds were saying as they sang. I like the sound that great blue herons screech out. It sounds positively prehistoric. It even makes me think I might just happen upon a dinosaur, maybe just around the next bend. And I love the soulful sound mourning doves coo at the dusk of the day. It stills me… makes me even skip a breath. I also like to hear the little snippets of everyday life friends share with one another as they walk along the path… “So, she’s moving? Yes, she’s moving to Raleigh, which makes me happy. I want her to have a little bit of independence.” Although, I think I detect more sadness in her voice than happiness. Or the woman who says, “You never did trust him;” which sends me into imagining what all he could have done to lose her trust. Or the woman who excitedly says into her cell phone, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I catch a flight to Seattle;” and I immediately begin to conjure up visions of a family reunion. That sounds like fun.
I like the way the wind sounds rustling through scruffy shrubs, skinny pines, Tarzan-sized vines, and assorted knotty gumball trees. It reminds me of the prophet who says “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” I like the way bicycles sound as they cross over the uneven boardwalk “clump in major, clump in minor.” More than the sound though is the feel of the draft passing bikes make! You really learn to look forward to bicycle breezes during certain parts of the year. And I like to listen to all the sounds my dogs make—the younger one sharp, strong “Yap, yap, yap,” which I translate to “Joy, joy, joy!” and the older one “Ka, ka, ka” which is an altogether different kind of joy, joy, joy. These are a few of the things that bring me joy. I wonder what brings you joy…
In that moment, I realized that the Divine Creator cared enough about me to make me do what I needed to do most in that moment—and that was listen!
It is amazing what you hear when you really listen.
Henri Nouwen understood listening to be an aspect of spiritual hospitality. He wrote, “To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.