I remember from my childhood the old saying that we have two ears and one mouth, indicating that we should listen twice as much as we speak. It was one of those things that got tucked away in the “sage advice” section of my brain (a very rarely accessed area), but never really applied. Instead, for the last 36 or so years (the time since I’ve been able to speak), I’ve flooded the world with words…often when someone else was trying to say something….something important or heavy…and I would miss it, because I was too busy rattling on. I remember some years ago I was at a gathering of friends, and was visiting with someone that I had not seen in a while but had been very close to. As I rambled on and joked and went on and on…somewhere in the conversation…my friend mentioned the very recent and unexpected death of a sibling…I wish I could say that I stopped jabbering and gave the moment the attention it deserved…I wish I could say that…but I can’t. I had been talking so much…not just there and then…but throughout life in general…that I was callous to the sensitive sounds of agony and joy around me…and I didn’t even realize it until much later that evening…
I have found that the more I speak, the less my words mean, and the more noise in my life, the less I can hear the most blessed of sounds. I read recently that the Jews had a very strong belief about words…they believed that they carried power. If my source is correct (as I’m not a Hebrew scholar) they only had around 100,000 words in the ancient Hebrew vernacular (English has about 10 times that many). They did not take speech lightly. This is why it was so tragic to Esau, in the story of Jacob tricking Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing, that Jacob had been successful. We might say, “no big deal, just say it again to the person for which it was intended,” but they did not believe that to be a possibility. They believed that once a blessing had been spoken, it was irrevocable and it was powerful. In this culture, I really don’t think we could begin to grasp this concept…with a barrage of noise and words relentlessly assaulting our senses…and then it happens….we miss it…we miss a moment…a moment in time in which we can hear the cry, connect with the pain….or listen to the sounds, feel the joy, being blessed in our senses.
A big problem is that we are so inundated with noise, and we create so much, that we don’t hear much of it…and that’s when it happens…like it did to me…and I missed it…and missed a great opportunity to embrace a friend and give them what their soul was agonizing for in that moment.
Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commands. He also simplified it all by reducing all of the commands down to two. He told us to love God with all of our being, and to love our fellow man/woman as if they were our very selves. Essentially, put God first, and put others first. We fail at this on both counts when we consider our conversations with each. Our prayers are usually filled with words, but not with quiet listening…we talk AT God, but have a very hard time listening for Him. The same holds true in our relationships with each other. We often just look for the break in the conversation, and aren’t even really listening to what’s going on behind the words that are being spoken…because we are too busy thinking of what we are going to say…
Maybe it’s just me…maybe you don’t have this struggle…but I do. I have it because I put myself first, and am more interested in multiplying my own words and my own thoughts than I am in really listening to life around me…numb to the pains of my fellow humans…or unaffected by the joy they are communicating.
BUT…it doesn’t have to be that way…we can start now…right now….just listen…turn off the white noise….listen for the soft sound of the impression of God on our hearts….listen not simply to the words that are coming out of mouths….but to what is truly being said…and think about it. Listen to what’s said….how it’s said….what that could mean…let it break your heart with theirs…crying with them…or let it elevate your soul to soar…dancing out of joy with the sounds of jubilee in your heart. We can make a major change in the lives of others as well as a major change to our own…if we will simply practice some age-old wisdom…and shut up….and listen…be it to the voices of real people around us….or a bird singing in a tree…or to the stillness that is such a gift.
ssshhh. Listen…you will be utterly amazed at what you may hear…much of it will be troubling, offensive, and alarming…but some of it will also be filled with opportunity to embrace or to celebrate…but if we’re not careful…we will talk right through it…and miss it all…and worst of all…those that really need to be heard will miss that opportunity as well.