The great art of listening
A Christian Science perspective: One way to improve our listening is to stop talking.
Our society pays attention to the people who speak up. People who speak in a loud, clear voice can persuade others; they explain things; they outline the choices. That’s true of many biblical figures as well. But my favorite Bible characters are the listeners.
There are so many! I’m especially drawn to the ones who are willing to listen to spiritual intuitions that are unexpected. There is Abraham listening to the unlikely advice to leave his homeland, and the sweet surprise alternative to the sacrifice of his son.
Moses listens and – after a few objections, “Really? Who, me?” – accepts the unusual idea of leading a spiritually based mass migration.
Then there is Elijah, who is roused from despair to listen through the earthquake, wind, and fire for what he recognizes as the “still small voice” of God. The message: Return to the kingdom he has just escaped. Elijah listens, returns, and mentors a new generation of prophets.
Centuries later, the Apostle Paul paid close attention to the spiritual intuitions he received (see Acts 9:1-31); he took on a new life mission and carried the good news of Christianity throughout many lands.
You can see why I find the Bible characters who listen so significant. So how can we be like them? What’s involved in hearing the messages from God, divine Mind?
One way to improve our listening is to stop talking. A good metaphor is a “walkie-talkie,” which allows you to communicate with others by being in “send” mode or “receive” mode. As long as you are sending, there is no way to receive. One way to get ready to receive inspiration is to get quiet. At the same time, we can become conscious of the deep power of divine Love. A psalm puts it: “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10).
Then the challenge is to recognize the spiritual intuition right among the many needs, small and large, that are floating around, from what to cook for dinner tonight to how to have a healing effect on poverty, disease, and war (like the earthquake, wind, and fire that crashed and flamed around Elijah). What is the still small voice telling us?
There was a time when our family had a big decision to make. We were living in a beautiful city, where my husband and I both had good jobs and supportive friends, and our children were in an excellent school. If we wanted to stay there for another period of time, my husband had to reapply for his job (it had been assured him). It was obvious that we were in a plush place; we would have been crazy not to stay. But then one evening when I really listened, it became very clear to me that we should leave, move back nearer our families. Lots of good things followed from that unexpected decision.
We need the blessings that come from hearing the divinely inspired ideas and following them. Sometimes we hear the message but have too many excuses as to why we shouldn’t follow through. (The prophet Jonah comes to mind; hearing that he is to go in one direction, but deliberately chooses to take a ship in the opposite direction (see Jonah 1:1-17).
Humility helps – not to be quite so sure that we know what the right thing is, to be ready to yield, to be open to unexpected ideas and the good that comes from following them.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, described the mind-set this way: “Willingness to become as a little child and to leave the old for the new, renders thought receptive of the advanced idea. Gladness to leave the false landmarks and joy to see them disappear, – this disposition helps to precipitate the ultimate harmony” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 323-324).