|Not everyone on the boat was impressed by Peter's spontaneous rendition of 'Hernando's Hideaway'...|
Stumbled upon the above cartoon, to which I've added a caption [other suggestions welcome!]. After the initial laugh, it got me to thinking about hearing; the way we hear things, or indeed, mishear them. Cue here the ongoing gags concerning the Lord's Prayer and the child firmly convinced that God's name is 'Harold'... or the sense of compassion that occasionally wells up when singing about that poor cross-eyed bear named 'Gladly'. It also made me ponder about our reactions to others when they appear to get it wrong - dismissive or accepting, deriding or assisting, and, back to an old theme, dehumanising or re-humanising? Communication, like the old song, takes two baby, so how do we treat the other party in the exchange?
Teasing out this theme of listening and hearing: I love how the mind, when not quite hearing something, valiantly attempts to fill in the blanks; to link a thing together and arrange it into some kind of sense, no matter how odd. There are those times when we genuinely do mishear, but there are also those times when our hearing/ comprehension instead projects what we want to hear, rather than the reality. Who wouldn't rather break out the castanets and party, as opposed to cast the nets and get stuck into the hard slog of work, I wonder? Breaking out the castanets, however, is perhaps not the most conducive way to effect real listening. How do we learn to listen to the voice of God, and to the voices of others?
The act of listening, really concentrated listening, is kenotic; self-giving, and self-negating and allows the 'other' to be placed first, to shine, to tell their story, to share their wisdom and insights. The process requires us to still our own inner noise, our own need to distract and bring the focus back to ourselves - to refrain from cutting the other's story short, to resist that temptation to butt in and, instead, to be quietly present. It is also incredibly exhausting; it is work and a slog at times, but it is also a rather extraordinary gift we can give to people.
Personally, I continue to work out how to listen in this kenotic sense. I continue to work at how to get the right balance between enjoying conversation and banter, and knowing when to move into the quietness of hearing what is really being said... of learning how to make room in the midst of my own need for the noise of self-affirmation and assurance of existence, and go beyond the surface into the still, hushed places. The act of moving beyond mere hearing works relationally both vertically and horizontally whether listening for the voice of God, or listening for the voice of friend, neighbour, or stranger. Perhaps the act of practising listening is another way in which to practice putting on love; an act of quiet, self-giving, often unseen inclusion in a noisy world of dissonant, competing voices too busy talking to really hear each other?
In the end - and beginning - perhaps the very heart of ministry centres upon listening. In response, listening informs the care of others - this by many means: the proclamation of the word, teaching, vision, the administration of the sacraments, the ever-present regimen of meetings, and the nuts and bolts and administration of a parish. To respond from a place of having listened attentively might just avert some, although not all, painful and unnecessary disasters....