Listening…hearing…somewhat similar, but not exactly the same… Hearing has something to do with our ears…one notices the ear in “hear” very easily. Hearing is a sense that protects and sustains us, a sense important to our interactions, a sense that we seek to improve when it’s not functioning at its best.
Over three hundred years ago a debate began with Bishop George Berkeley about a tree falling in a forest: If no one was around to hear, did the falling tree make a sound? This has been answered on many levels, some pointing to yes and others pointing to no. The crux of the issue is that ears (or analogous structures) were needed to perceive the air disturbances produced by the falling tree. Similarly, we hear many things all day, but how many of them do we really hear? And on a deeper level, how many of them do we listen to?
The prophets have many examples of this hearing and listening: God says to Ezekiel, “Take into your heart all my words which I will speak to you and listen closely.” Ezekiel 3:10. Definitely a deeper hearing is implied, a hearing that has to do with the heart. Samuel recognizes the voice of God and says, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”1 Samuel 3:10.
God speaks to us in many ways that we can hear, but we are challenged to listen with our hearts, turning (our) ear to wisdom, inclining (our) heart to understanding. Proverbs 2.2. Jesus said, blessed are … your ears, because they hear. Matthew 13:16.
Grace and Spirit are gifts from God to enable our hearing to be transformed into listening in a way that allows the sounds around us to not only move our ear-bones, but also to pluck at our heart-strings: a noise becomes an invitation, a word enkindles a relationship, a cry enables a caring response.
Listening enables me to be more fully alive and compassionate.
Hearing sound surround
Perceiving Spirit abound
Sr. Deborah Lockwood, OSF
Redwood City, CA