Prompted by today’s readings I want to share some thoughts with you about listening and hearing — seriously hearing, genuinely hearing — and I begin with a story. It’s about a young girl in college. It was just before Christmas break. She was sitting in the student center, lost in thought. She had just talked on her cell phone with her family back home and learned that her mother was seriously ill with advanced cancer. Another girl, also on a cell phone, came over, sat next to her and asked what courses she was going to take when they returned next semester. She replied: “I’m not coming back for next semester because my mom has cancer and I’m going to stay home and help take care of her.” The second girl, still on her cell phone, asked: “What are you going to do on the Christmas break? Do you have any parties lined up?” With that the first girl realized that no communication had taken place. The second girl really wasn’t interested. She had listened but not heard.
Who among us has not experienced something similar? Who among us, perhaps at a party, has not been talking to someone who was merely chit-chatting and not really interested in what we had to say? Perhaps names were exchanged but then, thirty seconds later, not remembered. Certainly the conversation was quickly forgotten.
Words, of course, are not merely words, they, like cars in a freight train, carry within them meaning. They bear precious freight within them. We need to get inside them to receive what they offer us. Words of love, for instance, can fill us with joy and happiness. Words of warning should cause us to pay attention. Words of all types can move us. To ignore them or to pay them little heed leads us to live lives of sterile isolation.
Why is it that people tune each other out? Why is it that people listen but do not hear, do not hear with understanding? Are our minds too cluttered with information that really doesn’t matter? Are we too busy hearing ourselves talk and are so absorbed with our own feelings and what we have to say that we have no room for the thoughts and feelings of others?
Our Blessed Lord well understood the importance of not only listening but of hearing. “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear,” He cried out, and cried out in a loud voice. He did His best to get our attention, hoping that we would hear and take into our hearts what He had to say. After all, He had come from His Father in heaven, come down to us bringing God’s love and God’s Word for us. Jesus Christ was God’s expression of Himself to us.
I have always been fascinated by the fact that St. John began his gospel account of Jesus Christ with these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1-5). The point is that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in the form of word, His Word for us.
While that is true, we must realize that words convey not only mental concepts they can also convey images; they can paint word pictures. Take, for instance, the parables of Jesus and consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or that of the Good Samaritan. They evoke powerful mental pictures, pictures that reveal the heart of God. The bible and the teachings of Jesus can fill our minds with images that reveal what kind of a God God really is.
In our day we are communicating more and more through images. Movies, TV, the Internet and cell-phones communicate through images and pictures, visual media that are overtaking words. There’s a certain danger in what’s happening to us, the danger that superficiality may dominate substance. Thus it is that we need to take time to reflect and not overload our minds with just words and images alone. They do us no real good unless and until we ponder, reflect, and take their meanings into our hearts and minds.
It is through God’s Word made flesh that God personally and directly presented Himself to us in our world, in our very own humanity. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… was the first thought St. John gave us in writing his Gospel. Earlier the Old Testament Psalm 199 presented these words to be sung; “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” What better way to get direction in life than from God Himself? An old hymn sings: In ancient times God spoke to man through prophets, and in varied ways, But now He speaks through Christ his Son, His radiance through eternal days.
I want to challenge you today to frequently read Bible passages. That frequent practice will influence your thoughts and actions. It will mold and shape you in so very many ways. You won’t regret it!
We also need to go into our inner selves and “listen” to what we find there. Let me share with you now a beautiful Old Testament passage that takes us there, It’s from the First Book of Kings:
“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Isn’t it beautiful how God speaks to us in a still, small voice? But if the noise of the world is drowning out our ability to hear Him, if we are awash in words, we can miss out on what He’s trying to tell us. And so do yourself a favor. Take some time out each day to remove yourself from all distractions such as television, friends, text messages, twittering, or whatever may be keeping you from hearing God’s sweet, gentle whisper. Take time to reflect.
Finally, give yourself a break and pay attention to what happening outside in the world of nature. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul points out: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
Who among us has not been amazed at God’s greatness when they look upon a rainbow, a sunset, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, or the waves of the ocean? Think about the great detail we find in a butterfly, or think about how scientists have never found any two snowflakes that have the same pattern! What a creative and loving God we have! He placed all these creations around us for us to enjoy and appreciate and realize who they came from. So take time out this week to observe nature and its complexity. You will begin to realize just how awesome our Creator is and how much He loves you!
The big problem we have in our lives is the problem of time — time and the relative importance we give to things. And when you do consider what’s in front of you, ask yourself: What could be more important that letting God touch me and tell me of His love for me? Thank Him and tell Him that you love Him… and then let Him speak His words of love to you.