Listening

15/02/09 | Posted by Vicky

I live just down the road from a large community of Charedi Jews (more commonly known as the ultra-Orthodox). It’s easy to tell which households are Jewish – they all have a little ceramic tube attached to the doorpost, a mezuzah, which people kiss as they go in and out. Each mezuzah contains a scroll with the same passage from the Torah written on it: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your power…”

This is the Shema, the Jewish affirmation of faith. It is the first prayer that Jewish children ever learn. And it begins with an invitation to listen.

Jesus, who was Jewish himself, would have recited this prayer three times a day. The Bible refers to Jesus as the Word made flesh, drawing a parallel between sacred texts such as the Shema and this extraordinary person who was travelling about the country, teaching people about faith and healing the sick. The first public lesson that Jesus ever taught was how to listen. When he was twelve years old he went to Jerusalem with his parents. They lost him in the crowds. Panicking, they hunted for him everywhere – and eventually found him in the temple, ‘listening to the priests and asking questions’, absorbed in what he was hearing.

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For me, this is one of the most remarkable things about Jesus – the way he listens. The priests who were talking to him were amazed at his understanding; it was clear from the start that this was no typical child. But although Jesus already had the answers, he understood the importance of listening quietly to other people, of allowing them to tell their own stories, of asking them questions that encouraged them to think about things that they might not have considered. When Jesus was asked a question during his preaching, he often had a question in return. He might have known everything, but he wasn’t a know-it-all.

I have learnt a lot from Jesus about listening. I work at a college for people with learning disabilities. Most of them struggle with speech, and some of them can’t speak at all. One of the first things I learnt was how to listen patiently – how to wait half an hour for an answer, how to read the body language of individual students, how to recognise my own lack of understanding. A few days ago I came across a student who was drawing a series of wobbly circles. With each circle, he muttered the name of a fellow student, relative, or family member. Those circles looked like a mess to me. To him they represented the people he loves.

Jesus, help me to listen.

My old college chaplain used to work in a prison. He said, “One thing that you noticed about that place was the complete lack of love. Hardly any of the men in there had been loved.” The headlines shriek about crime, and in our unease that shrieking is all we can hear. But what if there’s more? The Christian preacher Dave Wilkerson was once out walking in an area of New York that is rife with gang crime, when he ran into a homeless gangster who threatened him with a blade. Wilkerson noticed that the man’s bare feet were sore and blue with cold. He removed his own shoes and gave them to the man. He walked away unhurt, with the man howling in mocking laughter at the preacher’s undignified appearance. In the man’s threat, Wilkerson had heard something more than violence. He had heard human fear and human need.

Jesus, help me to listen.

It’s the same with people who have said something to upset or annoy me. Often I get indignant about it, and my indignation clamours so loudly in my ears that I don’t hear the strain in the other person’s voice. I don’t see the dark circles under their eyes. I snap back. I don’t listen.

Jesus spent a lot of his time with other people. But he also spent a lot of time alone. The Bible says that he ‘withdrew to a lonely place, and prayed’. And this is how I think of him when I settle down to pray: alone in the desert, alone by that lakeside in Galilee, alone in the middle of the dark night before he died. Praying. Absorbed in what he was hearing.

Jesus, you who will hear every word that I speak today, help me to listen.

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I was pointed to this site by an Article in the Reader Magazine.

It is excellent and just what I needed at this time.

Creativity and spirituality speak to me as a retired architect, amateur photographer and Reader Emeritus.

#1. By Ron Williams on February 17, 2009

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