A New Leaf

Ponderings in Changing Seasons


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The HeART of Listening

The EAR! What a magnificent instrument!

When still in grade school, we learn about the inner and the outer ear, the cochlea, the tiny cilia that line the outer ear, the ear drum, the snail-shaped cochlea of the inner ear and the fluid that conducts sound waves to the nerves that tell the brain what we heard.  It may be a voice speaking words and tones that lift or deflate.  It may be music that grates and annoys or that inspires to loftier mood.  Perhaps the sound alarms, putting us on alert.  Or, it may lull us to rest.

Ears may be large or small, proportional or ludicrous.  Ears may be just right and, thereby, go unnoticed or they may protrude in a way that one is distracted because they demand notice.  Nonetheless, the ear is a vessel, a conduit first to the brain, then to the heart.

My sister who is in her sixties has had a startling discovery.  The hearing aids she received soon after the New Year began for her a new life!  She had never had them; she never knew what she was missing.  How it is that she has come to this so late in life is for another story time, but suffice it to say she is ecstatic!  She never heard so many birds; she never knew Walmart has piped music.  She has had to ask her husband of 41 years to lower his volume when he speaks because it hurts her ears.  She hears her colleagues at work now with crystal clear distinction.  She hears her own footsteps and she hears herself chew her food.  The mis-hears of her life now make sense.  She would hear “look” for “book” or “stoop” for “loop” as examples and find herself replying to a wrong concept being discussed.  She always thought she was not chosen for games at school.  Suddenly, the anxiety has been lifted and she recalls that her classmates would get in her face and call her name to tell her she had just been called to run over in Red Rover!  She now understands that she wasn’t simply inattentive; she could not hear!  Her memory book full of humiliations and disappointments in a moment’s time has begun to reverse.  Now she can hear!! And hearing makes all the difference!

There is a difference, however, between hearing and listening.  Hearing is what the ear is designed to do; listening is what the heart is inspired to do.  The neural or brain pathways differ according to which occurs.

Lately, I have been practicing my Listening.  I have been practicing my Listening into the silence.  Just yesterday we had a quiet late winter snow.  The large flakes softly fell like feathers drifting on air currents to the waiting ground.  I opened the door to listen!  I heard nothing.   The snowflakes made not a sound.  But when I listened with my heart, I heard music.  The beauty of that pristine moment will forever be etched in my memory!  It was a gift! A gift of a moment of stillness that resonated with meaning!

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It is a difficult thing to be still and listen.  It requires discipline; it requires intention and attention.  The natural bent of 21st Century Westerners is rarely to be still.  We are living in an age of Distraction.  I read once that “clutter is visual noise”.  We live with lots of clutter and lots of noise.  Consider the internet, the “Information Highway”:  FaceBook, email, news, weather, articles, Google, iBooks, Kindle.  No literal screen or screen in the mind is devoid of clutter of some sort.  It can be much like Ulysses’ Sirens of the sea whose irresistible songs lured sailors, who warbled incessantly for their consuming attention.*

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We are enticed.  We can rarely escape into the stillness.

image“Be still and know that I am God” is an oft-quoted verse in the Psalms.**  Oh, how simple the words appear; the doing is not simple, nor easy.  As soon as I am “quiet” I am assaulted by myriad siren-like voices that cry not only for my attention, but for my immediate activity.  Sometimes I find myself unwittingly rising from where I am seated to move toward that activity ~ to call or text someone, to write a list, to throw in a load of wash.  I have to quell within the voices and quash the urge to move ~ out and away from the stillness.

Nonetheless, I find that the more I practice, the more I am making a new channel to first my brain, then to my heart.  The more I dwell in Stillness, the more relaxed I become.  The more relaxed and mindful I am, the more I can truly heart listen and the more I am open to receive from the Holy Spirit what is fresh and new.  I am so often amazed at what He reveals to me.  He innovates creative solutions to complex problems; He inspires hope to replace discouragement.  In listening as a part of my spiritual practice, for part of my time in prayer, I am instructed, uplifted, challenged, loved.  It is so wonderful that I find there is a growing longing in me to spend less time talking in prayer and more time listening for His Still Small Voice, His Heart Whispers.

As you reflect on my words here shared, I extend an invitation to you.  Please join me in this Lenten Season when we are beckoned to separate a bit more from the “Sirens” of technology, busy-ness, distraction, to a more quiet, more reflective Listening posture.  I pray you will find this not merely an exercise for this brief Season, but rather an embarking upon a new spiritual discipline, a new lifestyle of really “hearing” beyond your brain to what has been planted in your heart.

*Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey   ** Psalm 46:10