Learning to Listen - Scott Dickison
This past week I had an opportunity to spend some time with Father Allan McDonald, the pastor of our neighbors at St. Joseph Catholic Church. We met at the rectory at St. Joseph, and after a while made our way over to the church so I could finally take in their beautiful worship space. Many of you had remarked to me that it is spectacular, and I was not disappointed—a truly breathtaking sight to see, with all the stained glass and beautiful marble.
As he was telling me about the building and the various renovations it has undergone, and described the different features, I noticed that the acoustics of this space were every bit as astounding as the architecture. I mentioned this to him and he agreed that it was a spectacular space for singing (to which I’m sure many of you can attest), but lamented that it is at times a difficult space for speaking. You see, this “bounce” effect produced by all the hard surfaces, which makes you feel like you’re surrounded by a flood of sound, is perfect for singing, but can be a nuisance for trying to hear speech.
Father McDonald said they have painstakingly worked with sound technicians to address this issue, but it’s still far from perfect. And then he said that while the sound is certainly much better than it was, “You still have to learn how to listen in here.”
And I thought, what a beautiful image for our Lenten journey: learning to listen.
Of course, this is far from a new image. Much has been written about learning to listen in a spiritual sense. Frederick Beuchner, one of my all-time-faves, famously advises us to “listen to your life.” Parker Palmer, coming from the other end of the image, says to “let your life speak.” I even drew on this image during the sermon from last week, and the list goes on and on.
But the enduring popularity of this metaphor speaks to its power. The truth of the matter is that truly listening is hard. Most of our conversations, when we’re being honest, involve two people each waiting for his turn to speak. Listening is a skill, and while some among us are blessed with a special talent for it, even then this talent must be developed. We must learn to listen, both in our relationships with each other, and our relationship with God. And as we learn, we may even find that the two are interrelated.