“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” With those words Samuel has opened his ears and heart to what God has to say. He’s listening for a truth about himself, a truth for his life, a truth that might chart a way forward.
And aren’t we all? Aren’t we are always listening for that kind of truth for ourselves, our families, our parish, our country?
If 2020 showed us anything it revealed how necessary that kind of deep and intentional listening is, and how difficult it is to sort through all the voices we hear, both within and outside ourselves, and discern a truthful way forward. I don’t expect that kind of listening to be any less necessary or difficult in 2021.
Who are you listening to these days? Who are you not listening to? What are you listening for? What do you want to hear and what do you not want to hear?
As I reflect on those questions I recognize in myself two ways of listening. We could think of them as two levels, one is superficial and the other is deep. One is represented by the ears and the other by the heart. One is closed, the other open. One tends toward safety, the other toward vulnerability. One is static, the other dynamic. See if any of this sounds familiar in your life.
Sometimes, as my mom used to tell me, when I listen it goes in one ear and out the other. My listening is selective. I’d like to think I outgrew that selective hearing but I probably just grew into it.
There are times when I hear only what I want to hear, what I agree with, what affirms my life, what comports with my beliefs. I suspect that may be true for you as well. It’s a “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” kind of moment. We don’t need or want to hear anything new because we already know. We already have our mind made up. We change the channel, unfollow, unfriend, or delete the post. We know what we know, believe what we believe, and we don’t need someone messing with that.
In this kind of listening truth is a proposition, an absolute, a concept to which I either give or withhold my assent. If I agree then it’s the truth, if I don’t agree it’s not the truth. This kind of listening keeps me safe and comfortable. It excludes from my life anything that would ask me to change, to be different, to move to new place. It keeps my focus on the so-called truth teller and his or her character or lack thereof, and that focus usually looks like my assumptions, judgments, and labels.
My experience is that that superficial kind of listening keeps my world narrow and small. It gives me the illusion that I have the truth, that I know the truth, not only for myself but for you too.
But then there are those other times when I listen more deeply and intensely. I listen with my heart. I’m not holding onto my life so tightly. I feel connected to something larger and beyond myself. I’m open to the risky business of life. I have faith in life and not just a belief in something or someone. I trust the not knowing, the unexpected, the uncomfortable. I’m willing to admit that that I do not have all the truth, that I can’t have all the truth.
When I listen deeply in my heart I have the courage, even when I am afraid, to get out from under shade of my fig tree and go see. I go see what I do not yet know. I go to a place I’ve never been. I think about something I’ve never thought. I imagine a possibility I’ve never considered.
In this kind of listening truth is not a concept but a call. It is not a proposition but a pull. It is not something to be proved or disproved but something to be done, to which I bear witness by my life. The focus and responsibility are on me as a truth hearer. I can’t blame others, I have to step up and take responsibility for my life.
This kind of listening sets before me an invitation. “Follow me.” “Come and see.” It asks something of me – to change, to go, to reach out, to love, to give, to forgive, to heal, to reconcile. It is an invitation not simply to believe a truth but to do the truth.
Even as I say all these things to you, in the back of mind I’m wondering, “And is that the truth?” Every week I stand before you to preach the truth. Notice I did not say, “I stand before you and preach the truth.” I don’t know if I do or not. That’s my intention, my hope, my prayer, but I don’t know. Sometimes you let me know, but I don’t know for sure. I know this, however. I never have all the truth and if I am not first a truth hearer I can never be a truth teller. That’s not only about preaching. That’s about life. That’s not only about me, it’s also about you.
I wonder what you are hearing today in the deep listening of your heart? What is being asked of you? What truth is waiting to be done by you?
What would it look like, mean, and take for you to go do the truth you have been given to do?