A Disjointed, Fragmented Collection of Words on the Subject of Listening

Years ago our Pastor took a 12 week sabbatical and being a Deacon at the time, I had the opportunity to lead a worship service and deliver a sermon on one of those Sundays.

With the assigned scripture in hand I set about writing around it, hoping to build the essay into something worth hearing.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the joke I had made at the Deacons’ meeting during which I had volunteered would look me in the eye.  Won’t it be nice to be able to talk for 15 minutes without being interrupted?   Uh-oh. This is big – these people will be actually listening to what I have to say.

Every word began to carry the weight of a shoebox full of lead, and it occurred to me that there is a built-in safety feature to not being listened to, a margin of error, a space for sloppiness.  But is that really true?

If once-spoken words cannot be retrieved, and the spoken words are harsh and hateful, but the intended recipient doesn’t listen, so in fact does not hear them and thereby deflects them, then where does that spiteful sentiment end up?  Does it fall on some innocent, unsuspecting child who is just getting his or her bearings, a tiny one who believes everything they hear and takes it to heart?

When we think of listening is it not usually within the context of having others listen to us?  Might we want to listen to our own words before we say them?  How often do we think about how well we listen to others?

When we listen to a rushing river or birdsong or to the stories trees give up when prompted by the wind, could it be that we are listening to God or the Universe tell us that we are the Beloved?  And by our stopping to listen, even for the shortest moment, to let that music wash over us, I think we are returning that love through the simple act of listening. We allow the vibration of those sounds enter us and become part of us.

When two or more of us are gathered, and we all listen to the same sound, are we all joined into one being by virtue of the shared experience?

During a brief Twitter conversation with a friend on the subject of listening, I suggested that listening is an act of humility.   We put our own self aside for a moment and allow the other the simple grace of being heard.   I don’t mean to imply that we ought to allow ourselves to be trapped by those who make noise for the sole enjoyment of hearing their own voices, but even then there is an underlying message to be had if we are willing to listen for it.  Perhaps it is that their need to be heard is a desperate one.

Can we hear the words that dare not be spoken if we don’t stop and really listen to what is being said?

From a sales perspective listening can be a learned skill.  If we don’t listen carefully and follow up with questions, then we can’t find out what the customer or client wants.  If a prospective or active customer calls and tells me they want a two-inch filigree butterfly and I send them a 10-millimeter bead cap, the evidence makes it clear that I wasn’t listening very well.  It probably won’t result in a single sale, let alone a long-term business relationship with that person.  Let’s cut to the chase within this context – the only message the customer wants to convey is this question:  How can your product or service help me succeed?  How well we hear and respond to that one question will determine the success of our own venture.

Within the framework of time being measured in linear fashion, when we listen to someone we are giving them some of our most precious commodity.  But have you ever spent time with someone and looking at the clock, been astonished at how late the evening had grown?  In that timeless time, is it possible that we had briefly participated in the infinity of no-time?  Rarely do we regret those occasions.

For me it boils down to this.

Listening is an act of love.


And I’d love to hear what you have to say.















  1. Descartes said,

    May 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    One of the interesting things about blogging is that we seldom know if anyone really listens to anything we have to say. That’s part of the fun. You can rant and rave and not be too worried about what anyone thinks.

    Then you start to get the occasional comment and you check your stats and find out that people are listening to you-or at least stopping by for a few seconds.

    I am as guilty as the next person of merely waiting for my turn to speak-and not really listening. But I do like to have a good conversation and I also love those rare times when I lose track of time.

  2. Carl Ingalls said,

    May 29, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Thank you Andrea for some lovely thoughts about listening. This will certainly go into my continued thinking on the topic.

    Carl Ingalls

  3. Kcecelia said,

    May 31, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I agree with you, Andrea: Listening is an act of love. I am a careful listener. I care what is said to me, and I care that I too am heard. The connections that form when we communicate *are* sacred. What you wrote reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from James Baldwin:

    “One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found—and it is found in terrible places… For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” —James Baldwin Fumbling Toward Divinity: The Adoption Scriptures.

  4. August 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I so thoroughly enjoyed this, especially your discussion of joining in a conversation and shared moments of listening when time disappears – infinity of no-time – thought provoking and much needed.

  5. Catherine Ribblett said,

    July 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I always told my students, “The silence is as important as the sound. Listen to the sound of silence.” They were all nourished by listening.

    • September 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      A beautiful lesson to teach. Silence in music is as meaningful as the notes themselves.

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