Wednesday, April 28, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 29: Active Listening

I sat with a woman for two hours, listening to generous details of her life and journey. It was hard work. Hard work to stay present with her, to not zone out and take a mental holiday some place else. I was aware of my need to pray and stay connected to God as I stayed connected to her and her story.

After some time, the folds of her heart began to open. Tears flowed freely, pooling in her eyes and overflowing onto her cheeks. She spoke of things that she hadn’t expressed outside her own head. She spoke words that for the first time her ears heard her own voice speak. Words that needed to come out. Words that had been imprisoned and longed to be set free.

As I listened, occasionally asking a question, adding a cup full of thoughts in a torrent of hers, I knew some things. I knew, as I listened to her and listened to the Spirit, that she needed me to give her “permission” to feel. She needed to know that she wasn't crazy or cruel to desire what she desires. I affirmed her longings and her questions.

Afterwards, she hugged and thanked me for listening. Something so ordinary, a gift that one would think natural and to be expected. She expressed to me how much it meant to be heard. I have pondered her response and felt deep joy while at the same time perplexed. Why is active listening so hard to do? Why is active listening so rarely offered? How many people in my life have I missed hearing? Has anyone really heard me?

Here are some questions to help you be an active listener. The next time you sit with a friend, set the table for rich conversation by asking:
  • What is important to you right now that you would like for me to know?
  • How did/do you feel about that?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • What do you mean? Can you give me an example?
  • Where is God in this?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 28: Songs that make me cry

Saturday morning was colored in a shade of melancholy blue. I don’t know exactly why. Both David and I felt it. Perhaps it was tinted by a conversation we had with his grandma who is 93 and not doing so well. We love her dearly and it hurts our hearts to think of a day when we can’t hear her voice or experience her presence.

During breakfast, we listened to some music by a wonderful Italian composer/pianist named Ludivico Einaudi. You have to listen to this song called Svanire. I'm telling you, it is exquisite, heavenly-sounding. Here’s a link: Svanire We sat together speechless, allowing the beauty of this sweet, melancholy music to wash over us. It made us cry.

Why? What is it about the nature of some music, some songs, that can dissolve us into tears? I think it’s summed up in the word transcendence. This song conveys so vividly to me that there is a world “out there”, beyond me and beyond the world I am sitting in. It reminds me that I know “this world” isn’t forever and that world is. It helps me touch that world; taste that world; live for a moment in the bliss and uncertainly of that world.

I know that some of you find the blues of a melancholy day un-useful or disturbing. I’m sorry—but I think you are missing something. Hearing the sounds of music that make you cry deepens you and stirs your soul toward God who is transcendent. Please take some time to listen to this amazing song and allow the blues to enter you and connect you with him and heaven.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 27: If battlefields could talk

It’s a good 10 hour drive to Gettysburg from Indianapolis. I know because I road in a van there and back this past week—along with the other staff from my church. While there, we walked the battlefields of Gettysburg, reliving history and the very trying time in our nation we call (in the north) the Civil War.

If battlefields could talk—what would they say, what would we hear? Tom, our guide, told us stories of conflict, bravery and bloodshed. If battlefields could talk, we would hear cries and screams; cheers of victory and sobs from defeat; cursing and congratulating. We would hear the stories of young men, mere boys, whose lives were cut very short. We would hear stories of seasoned men driven by pride, prompted by character, and pressured by fear.

If battlefields could talk, I think we would be overwhelmed by the clamor of stories and the screams of the dying. If they could talk, I don’t think we could bear to listen. Yet, here we are—reaping the benefits from those who freed us, kept us unified, led us toward freedom. Maybe we need to let the battlefields talk.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 26: Opening our heart to God’s voice

I’m an avid reader. I’m looking at my nightstand right now—a modest stack of books on top, another pile next to it. If you walked into my office, you would see the same--piles of books, great and small, all beckoning to be read.

Though I am an serious reader and can’t imagine having a serious appetite for God without enlarging my appetite through reading, I don’t always read to hear—I read to read. I know the difference. For me, I am reading just to read when I gloss over the words on the page as if I’m in a race to reach the bottom of the page, the next page or the end of the chapter.

When I read to hear, I am more deliberate and measured. I stop at profound sentences and re-read them. I write notes in the margin; underline sentences; place question or exclamation marks off to the side. That’s when I am reading to digest. I am reading to nourish my hunger for God.

This week, I received an email from the Henri Nouwen society—something a friend of mine put me on to. I love Nouwen’s thoughts and musings and this quote was about spiritual reading—reading to hear. Here is what he had to say:

“Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new insight and knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead us to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but also to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.

As we read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God's voice. Sometimes we must be willing to put down the book we are reading and just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.” Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

Keep reading. But not only that, keep reading to hear God's voice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 26: Song in my head

I woke up this morning with a song in my head. Does that ever happen to you? Lately, the songs playing involuntarily inside my brain have usually been by Ingrid Michaelson—the singer I talked about a few days ago. There have been times in the last week when I began to hum a tune and David has said, “That song was in my head, too.” Weird how that happens.

So, what is that about? Why do some songs get stuck in our auditory memory and replay on their own? This phenomenon certainly testifies to the power of music. It carves an indelible impression into the folds of the mind. Composed of melody, harmony and rhythm, tunes are sticky and for some reason our memory latches onto them.

So, back to this morning’s tune. It was Ingrid’s song, The Mountain and the Sea. Once I realized that this was the melody playing in my mind, I decided to listen to it, almost as I listen to a Lectio Divina of Scripture, to hear if God wanted to speak to me through it.

As I listened, I was struck with the fact that though the song more than likely speaks of human love, it can also translate into lyrics about Divine love. In this song, Ingrid speaks of being a mountain and her lover being the sea. She says, “You can move me, if you want to. You can move a mountain, you can move everything.”

My mind connected her words with the words of Jesus, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20) While Jesus can move me if he wants to, he tells me that I can also move mountains with a small seed of faith. Hmmm….

Here are some questions for spiritual direction. Why not ask them for yourself.

  • What mountains are before me?
  • How might God move them through my faith?
  • How does God want to move me?

Monday, April 12, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 25: Groanings too deep for words

I know that I have dreams and longings that live unnoticed and unnamed within my soul. Sometimes those yearnings bubble up within me, groanings too deep for words, and surface in ways that surprise me—like the sudden impulse to cry, to act, to investigate. I see that same phenomena in others.

I don’t always know what to do with my dreams and desires—a topic of discussion this last week with my spiritual director. I don’t always notice them for what they are. Recently, I listened to a friend share some deep longings that have been gurgling inside her. She knows the sound but doesn’t know what to make of it. Neither do I.

As the Proverbs says, “A person heart is deep waters.” I find the deep waters of my heart to be murky at times. Yet, as I strain my ears to hear, as I slow down and attend, the waters still a bit and I hear God’s Spirit in the yearnings within me.

Here are some questions to help you listen to the cries of your soul and attend to the voice of the Spirit within them:

  • Where are my thoughts and preoccupations led when I let my mind wander?
  • What stirs up anxious feelings? Why? What am I avoiding?
  • What thoughts or actions bring pleasure and life to me?
  • What ideas, thoughts, or movements do I keep circling back to? Where is God in the circling?

Friday, April 9, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 24: Antiphonal Psalms

We have had some uncharacteristic spring days for early April. Hence, windows have been opened. I’ve gone without a jacket. The daffodils, crocuses and Bradford pear’s have burst into glorious bloom. And the birds have been happy—oh, so happy!

I sat next to my open window early in the morning and listened to the delight in their songs. Chirping in a chorus of a dozen different voices, I drank in their delight as the sun was dawning. Then I noticed. One bird—I don’t know what kind—would call out and another would answer in like song—an antiphonal psalm.

Antiphony is a musical term that refers to a hymn or song sung alternately by two groups of singers. When I was a music major and played in brass ensembles, we often played antiphonal music. It has the quality of an echo; one section plays a melody and then the other section answers back. The effect is quite beautiful!

The little birds answering one another in antiphonal psalms reminded me of the liturgy in Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches that incorporate antiphonal responses as part of the liturgy. The echo of human voices reflects the contagious nature of praise. One group speaks forth their praise and the other answers in like fashion.

The birds clearly enjoyed “encouraging one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in their hearts toward God.” (Colossians 3:16) Do I inspire an antiphony of psalms to be sung in my world? How might I spread a contagion of praise?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 23: Listening to Ingrid

Last Thursday night, we jammed into the dank confines of Bloomington’s Blue Bird and grooved to the tunes of Ingrid Michaelson—along with 400 college students. I don’t know when I have ever felt like such an young old person!

I’m listening to Ingrid right now as I write this blog. Her music can be haunting and melodic; silly and profound. Her voice has a unique quality but not one that is “pretend.” She sings from her natural voice with a clear, focused tone. The words to her songs are often singable—something I witnessed at the concert as 400 college students serenaded her by singing along.

Ingrid’s voice, words and music move me. I identify with many of her sentiments and acknowledge my human condition as I listen and join in her songs. Music is an amazing gift. Maybe, along with creation, it’s one of the most convincing apologetics for the existence of God.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 22: “I just want to see what’s on top, Dad.”

On Thursday, David took me away on a surprise overnight trip to celebrate my birthday. We had extraordinary weather--especially for April—I’ve had it snow or rain cats-and-dogs on other birthdays!. The first leg of my surprise trip, we went to Brown County and had a gorgeous hike down a deep ravine to a lake and back. Then we picnicked along a creek.

While we were eating, a little boy and his dad hiked by on the other side of the creek. I was amused, watching the lad tramp along, exploring everything he encountered. At one point, I heard him say, “I just want to see what’s on top, Dad.” Then without pausing, this little guy turned upward, clinging desperately to the steep hill above him. His father watched below, patiently waiting as his son gave into his quest to discover what he couldn’t see.

This boy’s spirit stirred me. For no reason other than the love of adventure, he leaned hard into this upward climb and conquered it. He inspired me and scolded me all at once. I want to live with the same curiosity, boldness, and willingness to risk and expend myself for the sake of seeing what’s on top.

I sense that God longs for me to be an explorer but it will require mustering my own determination to conquer the next hill and find out what’s on top. What does that mean for you? What new horizon might the Spirit lead you to investigate? Let’s go for it!