Listening with Your Socks Blown Off

Listening, really hearing what is before me, is not easily attained most of the time. Our ears are bombarded with so much every day, every minute… How to hear and how to recognize the meaning, the implications? We hear of this even from the time of Moses, when God wanted Moses to listen. “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Exodus 3.5 God had important words for Moses and called for undivided listening attention. That Word to Moses knocked not only his sandals off, but his socks as well. Listening with all his senses, Moses was able to be overcome by the irresistible profusion of God’s grace and awesome challenge of God’s call. 

We, too, are challenged to listen attentively to the Spirit who speaks a powerful word to us in so many ways daily, in innumerable small things, as well as in more significant ways with greater ramifications; words that engulf us, astound us, and excite us. Do we listen well? Do we let the Spirit sweep over us and enkindle the depths of our being? Can we listen with all our senses and be astonished at the message of the words? 

Helen Keller wrote to the New York Symphony Orchestra, on February 1, 1924, after experiencing their performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. She explained that, not being able to hear nor see, she put her hand on the speaker of the radio. 

“What was my amazement to discover that I could feel not only the vibrations but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roll of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow. Then all the instruments and voices together burst forth – an ocean of heavenly vibration – and died away like winds when the atom is spent, ending in a delicate shower of sweet notes. I couldn’t help remembering that the great composer who poured forth such a flood of sweetness into the world was deaf like myself. I marveled at the power of his quenchless spirit by which out of his pain he wrought such joy for others.” 

She was dazzled by what she heard through sensitive touch, overwhelmed as, surely, this listening knocked her socks off! 

Saint Francis of Assisi listened well the Word of God, the breath of the Spirit, and always shared this communion with others. This is poignantly seen in his celebration of Christmas 1223. Eight hundred years ago, Francis listened closely and understood the profundity of God incarnated in the world. He was inspired to show to all the people, the great love and profound humility of God in a special way at Greccio, Italy. His biographer, Thomas of Celano related that Francis told his friend: 

…to celebrate the coming feast of the Lord together at Greccio…hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay. 

(Celano, Life of St Francis, #84) 

The people came that cold, dark night, clambering up the steep hills with torches and lanterns, and what they beheld as they listened to the Word of God proclaimed and explained, knocked their socks off. It still does today for us who contemplate the yearly Christmas crib begun that night in 1223. 

Contemplation, listening with the heart, empowers us to be in the Spirit and perceive in the wholeness of our being. It is a holistic relationship with God, enhanced by human potential and capability, beyond words, but not beyond sensory input and the inner ear of our heart. This listening with the heart, enables us to know and feel the extravagant love of God in our world, in others, in ourselves. 

Remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God … 

(Victor Hugo, 1862)

As we listen and experience through sight, sound, touch, even tase and smell, the overflowing love of God, prodigal in every way, flows out of us and into our world. Not only our socks are blown off, but those of all who walk with us in our journey of life.

Sister Deborah Lockwood

Franciscan from Redwood City, CA