Listening with Bonhoeffer
February 11th, 2016
"The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to The Word, so the beginning of love for the community is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that not only gives The Word but also lends us God's ear. ...Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But one who can no longer listen to a brother or sister will soon no longer be listening to God either..." (Life Together, Chapter 4)
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
I don't listen. I try. I have tools, from psychology classes I took in college and seminary, from pastoral care courses, from books I read, from spiritual practices I've been a part of, and still I find myself zoning out--when someone is telling me something, or caught up in my own thought, or not available to really listen.
How about you? You might be a guru when it comes to listening but even so, I think you can benefit if you keep on reading.
Our chapter this week from Life Together is titled "SERVICE" or "MINISTRY," depending on the translation. For Bonhoeffer, the primary act of service is listening. In fact he begins with "holding one's tongue; this chapter is also preceded by meditation, which is a way of listening for God, for The Word, to the Spirit, to our inner voice, to our own struggles and joys.
Last week, at Riverfront Church, we put into practice "holy listening," which I borrowed from a Quaker friend-it is the act of repeating some Scriptural or liturgical mantra in your head as prayer to God while someone is speaking or praying, especially when you're having trouble paying attention. This isn't just limited to people; you can listen to the "noise" or "sounds" and other creatures and things of your world, and lift those up to God in prayer.
What I love about this is that it approaches each encounter--with people, places, and things--as "holy moments," and takes prayer seriously, believing that praying for one another throughout the day is powerful, and that God hears us and acts through us.
But before you get some romantic idea about this, also know that it's hard work and thus considered service. Think about our current election cycle and how angry and loud people are on all sides of the issues before us or consider your partner, your friend, your family, even when they've offended or hurt you, can you listen to them? I don't mean in some self-destructive way where you ignore your boundaries and your own safety and peace, but rather, can you listen, through their words, to the source of their pain, their sorrow, their fears and their joy?
Author Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication basically states that people are constantly expressing their fears and their hopes every time they communicate, however poorly. Whether it's offensive, or superficial, negative, or encouraging, the path to non-violence, he writes, is the act, the art, of listening.
Listening isn't something passive-it's hard work. So how about a challenge? This week, let's listen more, speak less, let's practice "holy listening,"-let's listen for God's Word, listen to our own expression of fears and hopes, and listen to that in others. Let's present it to God in prayer, just for one week, and then tell each other how it goes. I would love to hear about it and tell you my experience!