In our Lenten circle we are going to reflect on the theme of listening in three dimensions. Today we begin with listening to God. This is the most important and fundamental dimension. Next week we will write about listening to others. And finally, we will deal with listening to oneself. We should treat these themes as one. The three parts will form some whole. Therefore, we want to encourage your to read our next issues of ‘Niedziela.’
We have two ears and only one mouth. This is a very pretty symbol that shows that we can listen twice as much as we can speak. There is no love without listening. There is no spiritual life and mature deep relationships with people. Each of us has the need to listen and to be heard. However, listening is a difficult art, which we should constantly learn. If we neglect it, undermine it, crises will come at once. The first fruit of family psychotherapy is often the realization that the spouses do not listen to each other.
– Man has two ears and one mouth. This is a nice symbol. Man’s body conceals much wisdom. Mouth can be shut but ears cannot be covered. There is a strict relationship between being silent and listening. Listening is always in silence. Silence is the area of listening – said Fr Krzysztof Grzywocz, an experienced spiritual director, during one of the sessions in the Spiritual Formation Centre in Krakow.
Three dimensions of listening
Human listening comes from listening to God. This truth has two meanings. It is not only man that listens to God but first of all God listens to man. At any moment. One can even say that we live since we are sustained by loving listening to God. And if we listen we do so because we have been first heard. We can give only what we have received.
The masters of spiritual life were convinced about the significance of listening. St Paul convinces us that faith comes by hearing. And in turn, Saint Benedict appeals to his disciples in the first sentence of his ‘Holy Rule’, ‘Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart.’ ‘For him listening is some method for finding oneself before God and through that finding sense and wisdom in life. Concentration during listening is the basis for prayer’, writes Fr Wlodzimierz Zatorski, OSB, in the monthly ‘Droga’ [The Way]. Only careful listening to God allows you to listen to another man. But the ability to listen to another man confirms the ability to listen to God. – For example, if someone sits at the table with another man and cannot hear him he will not hear God in the chapel. God became man, which means that the deeper we listen to God is, the deeper we listen to others. And the deeper we listen to man the deeper we listen to God’, Fr Grzywocz says.
God speaks in many ways
How should we listen to God to hear him and to understand what he says... And God speaks in many ways; first of all he speaks through his Son Jesus Christ. The great mystic St John of the Cross writes in his The Ascent of Mount Carmel, ‘In giving us his Son, his only Word, he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.’
God speaks to us through the Teaching Office of the Church, i.e. the teachings of the Popes, councils, encyclicals, dogmatic constitutions, various documents, books, publications and saints. But he also speaks through ordinary people and daily events. Of course, not all people’s words are the words of God. Therefore, we should take the effort to discern whether a given situation, a meeting or an event is God’s words directed to us. Our discernment can be supported by confessors, spiritual directors, friends, someone who is close to us and someone whom we trust.
Several lines a day
Listening to God means reading the Holy Scripture. Since God himself is the author of this book. He used the authors who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’, wrote St Jerome who was famous for his translation of the whole Bible into Latin. Therefore, it is worth deciding to study the Bible in a systematic way. Most of us have copies of the Bible at home. Moreover, we have inserted the biblical books to ‘Niedziela’ for several months. There are various ways and schools of reading the Holy Scripture. We recommend beginners read several biblical verses a day. This is not much but it is enough to enjoy the text. You can increase ‘the dose’ gradually. What method to adopt? The simplest one is to follow the liturgical calendar. Many people begin their morning by reading the Gospel for the day and then they ‘carry’ it in their hearts through all the events, jobs and entertainment of the day. You can also read the Bible from the beginning or read one chapter a day or open it at random. It is important to read the Bible every day! Since systematic reading is especially important.
The Church proposes a deepened reading of the Holy Scriptures called lectio divina (sacred reading) to advanced readers. This method consists of four stages: – lectio – to read slowly a chosen passage two or three times, read it carefully, involving your faith, emotions and imagination, reflecting on these verses that have touched us most;
– meditatio – time to ‘ruminate’ on the fragment, to discern what God wants to tell me through the given text;
– oratio – our response to God, telling him about all our reactions to the words we have just read;
– contemplatio – the words are not important; the most important thing is to enjoy the presence of God; to enjoy our intimate relationship with him. These parts form some whole. Each part is important and leads to the next.
Silence makes our listening easier
We will not succeed in listening to God if we do not find some area of silence, away from noise and tumult. Since God’s speech is silent and delicate. While praying we should find some space in which we will not be disturbed by television or telephone calls. The best space would be a church or a chapel, i.e. the place where God ‘lives.’ Silence is warranted there and the interior favours prayer. Our room, if peaceful, is also a good place for prayer. God is everywhere but there are places where it is simply easier to hear him. And from time to time it is worthy going to some ‘desert’. The Old Testament authors were convinced of the necessity of choosing solitude and silence in order to listen to God. God’s prophets usually came from the deserts. Today our deserts can be monasteries or retreat houses where laymen can stay for a few days and be separated from the daily tumult, and they can listen to God in silence and concentration. You should use every occasion to accept such proposals. What counts then is not only the content of the talks or meditations. We can also hear them in our parishes or we can read books. What is important is that after hearing a talk we do not have to come back home to our housework but we have the time and comfort to reflect on the content, which we have heard in the silence of a monastery cell. When we begin some prayer, regardless of the place we are, we should ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let him help us in our prayers. Then it is worth listening. Then we should not say anything. We sometimes tend to thank God or ask God for something immediately after we have knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. The time for these activities will come later. At first, it is worth listening. Since it may occur that what we hear will cause us to say something completely different than we intended or we may remain in silence.