The Sacred art of Listening”

Allen Hein - September 12/2021

    I have a new book called the sacred art of listening that has made me do a lot of thinking about how we communicate. I have felt for a long time that most people including myself don’t really “listen”. Why would that be?? Perhaps, it is our own fault because of the way we speak. The English language has a massive number of rules, if you remember your school days English lessons. And we don’t like rules!! So we break them all; we leave sentences unfinished; we use too many unnecessary words; we babble; and, and let the listener guess what we mean.

    That is probably why most people don’t understand computers. A computer is a very precise machine and it’s error messages are so specific that every single letter has special meanings. No guesswork allowed. The common phrase when computers were first taught to verbalize was “that does not compute”.

    All animals can communicate with each other in different ways, humans included. I have been thinking of the ways communication has changed over the history of human life on this planet we live on. I can easily imagine that humans started out similar to animals and birds, that is, using strange sounds and body movements to portray different situations. But not everyone would necessarily understand what was being communicated, so the sound was changed to meet certain specific conditions. Over time enough changes were developed to create unique sounds, that developed into words

    However many people were so used to body language and facial expression, and the individual words did not always make their meaning clear. Developing an alphabet and a dictionary meant that words could be explained individually so the meanings could be written down and passed around without sound at all.

    Unfortunately misunderstandings are a fact of life that we have to live with, and our languages, both written, and spoken, are full of problems. We are not always careful with our choice of words leaving our meaning unclear. We jump to conclusions and think we know what the other person is going to say and either interrupt or do not listen to the complete sentence. We also do not complete our own sentences, or we insert extraneous words, that confuse our meaning.

    And then we have people who pay so much attention to tone of voice and facial expression that they do not hear the words we are using. This is nothing new! Jesus said “you have ears but you do not hear!; you have eyes but do not see! People heard Him speak but did not understand. I personally think that is why He spoke in parables so much of the time. Take the following from Luke chapter 15 verses 11 to 32, for example.

    And he said, A certain man had two sons:  And the younger of them said to  his  father,

"Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth  to me. And he divided unto them his living.

And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.

And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

And he answering said to  his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

    We all recognize this as the parable of the “prodigal son”, but who is it really about? Jesus did not take time to explain it. I have been told when telling a story one should always introduce the main character first. Jesus starts out “A certain man"; had two sonsWhich I interpret to mean the father is the main character.

    Then we have the two sons. Jesus talks about the reaction of both, so we could have a story about any one of the three characters. Jesus gives no explanation about this story, and all we have are the words he used, there is no tone of voice or facial expression to give us a hint.

    With only words to go by we have to draw our own conclusions. All three characters have reactions that could be the main subject of a story. Jesus left us to draw our own conclusions and forced us to take time to “think” and consider all the options!

    The written word with all it’s rules took centuries to develop, and yet we have the arrogance to think the we can ignore them, and both “speak” and “listen” only to the unintelligible noises our ancient ancestors used centuries ago! And then cover up our lack of intelligence with loud shouts of protest, repetitive chants, waving signs and distractive gestures to try to make a point, that cannot be supported by facts.

    On the other hand we can confuse those we speak to by using language that gives them something they want to hear, but does in no way answer the question that was asked. Next time you hear an interview with any politician “listen” carefully to the question and then “listen” carefully to the answer. I once told my wife a joke that ended with the punch line “you do not have to tell a woman the truth, as long as you tell her something she wants to hear” She was not amused!! Most politicians and pushy salespeople act as if that is true for everyone.

       Let us pray that in our relationship with God that we use no confusing words and actually LISTEN for His answer, even if it is non verbal.