ONE of my best grade-school friends was a devoted bird-watcher. Bird-watchers are bird listeners too, and my friend taught me how to listen. Walking down a forest path or through a meadow, while I was admiring flowers or thinking other thoughts, he was listening. He would stop, tilt his head, point, and whisper, ``Hear the chickadees?'' or ``That pecking is a woodpecker.'' Gradually, over many bird walks, I became a decent listener too. I learned to filter out distractions and to listen specifically for bird sounds.
I was recently reminded of this youthful listening lesson by a Bible verse from Revelation that begins, ``He that hath an ear, let him hear'' (2:7). J. B. Phillips in his translation offers, ``Let every listener hear.'' This helped me realize that listening and hearing are two different things. Listening involves more than just a desire to hear. Really listening requires so totally zeroing in on what we want to hear that nothing can distract us from it. When we're listening, we're paying attention to what we hear.
It's wonderful to hear and identify various cheerful, happy, and enthusiastic bird voices, but I've found that there's something even more worthwhile to listen for--angel messages. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, describes angels in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as, ``God's thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect'' (p. 581). When we listen to these messages from our loving Father, God, they keep us safe, joyous, and strong, they guide us and help us make sound decisions.
Spiritual intuitions are actually no harder to hear than bird songs. The process of learning to listen is similar--it includes learning to shut out distractions. In prayer, we really pay attention to God's direction.
In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy points out, ``Consistent prayer is the desire to do right'' (p. 9). If our desire is to listen to the creative and practical ideas God, divine Mind, is giving us, this pure desire also helps us detect the attention grabbers that would interfere with good listening. These come in many forms-- anger, envy, hurt feelings, pride, fear, anxiety, gossip, and smugness, to mention a few. Once detected, we can refuse to let them distract us from obeying God.
Practice does make perfect. Identifying such distractions and refusing them an audience cultivates sharp listening. When temptation says, ``Be angry (or maybe anxious) over what happened last week; you have every right to be!'' God is telling us that anger (or anxiety) is a destructive time-waster. Divine Mind, intelligent and wise, will correct what needs to be corrected. Our job is not to judge but to bear active witness to God's unfolding, good purpose. In our efforts to listen only to God, good, distractions can become reminders to attend more closely to what God is and knows and does. Eventually we will listen so well that we aren't even distracted.
Christ Jesus' life illustrated his ability to hear clearly the messages, spiritual intuitions, from God. His healing work overturned, for example, the physical evidence proclaiming loudly a withered hand (see Luke 6:6-10), or a leprous man (see Mark 1:40- 42), or a widow's dead son (see Luke 7:11-16). The spiritual ideas God imparts contradict deformity, disease, and death; with them Jesus restored the man's hand, healed the leper, and raised the widow's son.
Jesus expected his followers to be keen spiritual listeners too. Asking the right questions--how to better honor one God, how to better live with active goodwill for local and world neighbors-- hones our listening skills. We then hear the angel messages that, when followed, give meaning and direction to our lives. We will be listeners who hear.
BIBLE VERSE Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:16