The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice. John 10:27
We hear three voices - those from God, our neighbourhood and our self. Even when we’re speaking, those voices engage with us. We have two ears - I often need reminding - and one mouth! But we also have inner ears gifted by the Holy Spirit to listen from the heart and see our hearts touched, melted and enthused towards others. Building capacity to listen is about building awareness of those three voices.
|We might not have ears like rabbits but our inner ears can grow !|
As I look back on my life I think it's the people who’ve listened to me who’ve changed me most. I think of my mum and dad, my friends and teachers, my wife, my children and people who’ve lent an ear to my desire to follow God in the best way. As you’re listening to me now I also spend time listening in Church where I gain inspiration. I listen to God, to his word in the Bible, to the words of the Eucharist, sermons, to people who cross my path day by day and of course to myself. By listening to others I serve them and others serve me as they listen to my aspirations.
Priests do a lot of listening and bishops more so. I remember a conversation with Archbishop Rowan Williams who’d just come back from going round classes in a school. ‘I felt great sympathy with the children in their struggle to listen’ he said as one used to listening to the woes of priests. It’s one of the big challenges we have, the shorter attention spans of our children and grandchildren, which affects the classroom and among other things impacts church attendance. Children expect excitement in church. Wise children expect to be awed and intrigued - we have to cater for both!
This reminds me - I have a butterfly mind easily distracted - of a story about paying attention. It's about a shocked visitor to Crete who tackled a farmer she saw bashing his donkey on the side of his head with some sort of mallet. ‘How can you treat your donkey like that’ shouted the lady. ‘Simple’ the peasant replied. ‘I’ve got to get his attention’.
We should have sympathy. Life can feel donkey-like at times, like being on a treadmill, somewhat thankless. It's the same with the spiritual life at times. How many memorable sermons can I recall, let alone sermons that have really changed my life! One I must mention was on Jeremiah 31:17 ‘There is hope in thine end’. It was by a holy monk called Cedma Mack in the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield where I trained as a priest. ‘There is hope in thine end’ Fr Cedma announced as his text and dropped dead! Never forget it - you couldn’t lay on something like that! They carried him out.
The Creed was said not sung that day but otherwise the Community Mass proceeded as normal! Cedma was a much loved man - I held the holy water bucket at the grave and can tell you more tears flowed than holy water at his funeral!
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice.
I found God speaking to me as I read St Richard’s annual report last week. To read the description of the seven core areas of our life was very stimulating. More of us are leading so more is being achieved. I was pleased to do my bit in the Churchyard and through the Week of Guided Prayer. I’m aware of more God talk among us which might evidence more listening to God. It’s good we feel able to share with our peers and our priests about our journey of faith because that’s our Christian distinctive.
Listening to God and to one another is packaged with the costly virtue of self-forgetfulness. I try to remember that ultimately I will be with God and people in the communion of saints so my longing for him and for my neighbour is pivotal. My life - my eternal life - depends upon it.
A few weeks back I had a really difficult phone call from someone so full of emotional pain they were hardly able to let me get a word in to say I had a train to catch! In this experience I was trying to listen to her, to myself - an impatient inner voice saying ‘end this call asap’ - and to God saying ‘be kind’. By the grace of God I got my train! Reflecting back on the conversation I was fast to judge the poorly lady’s demanding tone as it rattled my own self-will. None of us can be in two places at once but the capacity to listen to others in or out of a crisis is a servant gift I keep seeking - and with it the gift of self-forgetfulness.
A practical suggestion. Pray for two gifts - to forget yourself and never to forget God. Ask the Lord first to steer you from self-love in every guise or disguise since that above all else blocks your capacity to listen to others. Then, secondly, offer God the aspirations of your soul and the health and ability of your body and open your heart to his love, maybe in a prayer like this.
A prayer of Eric MIlner-White: ‘Let your love, O Lord, pass into the depth of my heart, into the heart of my prayer, into the prayer of my whole being; so that I desert myself and dwell more and more in you, in peace, now and evermore’