Prayer can be like an hourglass at its narrowest point. At this point everything flows to it and everything flows from it. All flow is silent. Silence is a great help to listening. Listening to God is a little more difficult than listening to a person. A quiet environment helps because God usually speaks in a still, small voice. We sit in silence without argument or commotion. Like conversing with another person, we cannot hear God if we are talking or if our mind is preoccupied. If we want to hear him, we must be quiet so we can be receptive to what he is trying to tell us.
Because prayer, in part, is a listening art, it should develop into listening to others well. How we listen to God is reflected in how we listen to others. The fruits of listening at prayer tell us it is detrimental to listen to malicious gossip, mind numbing chatter from acquaintances or suggestive programming. To discern what deserves our attention, we scrutinize carefully what we choose to hear or view in the entertainment industry as well as in other areas of life.
It is a gift to speak the right words at the right time. A mutual monologue doesn’t fit here. This kind of ping pong monologue is common. Two people talk at each other. One shares a personal problem about a spouse, children, work or illness. Then the other person talks about the same problem in his or her life. Attentive concern is being aware of another’s needs, watching their body language and facial expression, and hearing what is said and not said. We pay attention to the words, and to the way the words are being conveyed. What does this person really need and how can I keep the focus on that need?
A sincere form of respect is to stay tuned to what a person has to say. With a receptive heart, we can concentrate more on what is being said. It is easy to respond by giving advice or solving the problem. Doesn’t this make us feel good? However, it is accurate to say that a person wants to know he or she is being heard correctly before help is offered. To clarify phrases with no need to control, censor or manipulate what is heard builds mutual trust. Listening with love is dying to self. So often we feel compelled to share our stories but isn’t that placing emphasis on us rather than the other? It takes a long course of study to achieve what Benedict wrote in his rule: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”