Recently I read a comment on clergy friend's blog. She was reflecting on the changes in her life and the lessons she was learning in and through those changes. Towards the end of her blog post she wrote, "I am learning to listen in a new way--I am learning to listen for connections." Her comment took me back to last night's Vestry meeting. There Vestry and clergy were gathered to review their take on candidates for our priest in charge. It was serious work. All came prepared. We began with scripture and prayer and silence. And then the listening began. Listening first to one another. Not in the "catch the drift of it" mode but in a different way of listening. Listening with the ears of the heart. Listening for the Spirit speaking through the people at the table.
As I watched and listened I found myself settling into a different plane, a different listening place. That heart listening was contagious. I could feel it in myself and I could feel it in the people around the table. It's not often in our culture that listening takes that shape. Usually listening consists of waiting for the pause in someone else's speech. Watching for the wedge to jump in with one's own comment. Often listening consists of what linguist Peter Elbow once called the "Pothole approach to teaching writing." That is looking for the potholes in a person's argument or essay. Listening not for what insights might be gleaned or what connections might appear but for the gaps and goofs. When you think about it, the pothole approach isn't very helpful in listening or in teaching writing.
As I watched the listening unfold, I was reminded of the Chinese character for the word "listen." One version of it consists of several elements, including ear, eyes, heart, and "undivided attention."
When I was working in a Quaker school, we tried to listen with the eyes of the heart. The way we did it was to provide just a little silence after someone spoke. That way we could hear not only the words but also the echo of the heart. Try it some time. See what it feels like--both on the listening and the listened to sides of the conversation.
In the months ahead, we at Live at Five will continue to listen to where God's Spirit is calling us as a community. Our Live at Five Council is listening as we work to flesh out what "fullness of church" means for us. Our Worship Committee is listening for ways to deepen our worship experiences. Our Sunday School teachers are listening for points of connection between our kids and our community.
Lead Priest, Live at Five