While at her doctor’s she asked for advice about her husband’s hearing. The doctor recommended an audiologist and said. “You can also test his hearing yourself. Ask him something from 50 feet away and if he doesn’t respond, ask again 10 feet closer and then 10 feet closer until he hears you.” The wife decided to try it. Her husband was in the kitchen making dinner. From 50 feet away she asked, “What’s for dinner honey?” No response. She moved 10 feet closer and asked, “What’s for dinner?” No response. 10 feet closer, she asked, “What’s for dinner hon?” Nothing. Again only 20 feet away. Nothing. From 10 feet away, she asked, “What’s for dinner?” And he answered, “What’s up! Aren’t you listening? I’ve told you five times now!”
Commands that we listen abound in scripture; listen to God, listen to Jesus. God called young Samuel over and over. Samuel thought Eli called and went each time, to see what he wanted. Finally, sleepless Eli understood that God was calling Samuel. He told Samuel to respond to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Psalm 78 begins, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” Jesus teaches the parable of the sower beginning and ending with, “Listen.”
But listening is hard. We get distracted by so many things. There is a story about a stewardess who, frustrated by being ignored by passengers during her what-to-do-in-an-emergency talk, changed the wording and said, “When the mask drops down in front of you, place it over your navel and continue to breathe normally.” Not a single passenger noticed.
The Psalmist urged we incline our ears. God urged we listen to Jesus. Jesus urged we listen to the ways of God. Now as one who has lost some hearing, I believe these commands to listen are much more than literally hearing. There are countless ways to perceive God, ways to, as Saint Benedict taught, “hear in one’s heart.” God is particularly perceivable in scripture. God is present to us as we together interpret, pray and sing the stories of faith. God is also available in nature: in the sun’s rising, its setting, the early crocuses bloom, the winds, the waters, grasses and trees. And God can be especially seen in each other, especially in our love of one another.
I love these words of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, an eighteenth century Jesuit Monk, “Once we can grasp that each moment contains some sign of the will of God, we shall find in it all we can possibly desire, for there is nothing more reasonable, more excellent, more holy than [God’s] will.... The present moment is always overflowing with immeasurable riches, far more than you are able to hold. Your faith will measure it out to you: as you believe, so you will receive. Love, too, is also a measure. The more you love the more you will want and the more you will get. Every moment the will of God is stretched out before us like a vast ocean which the desires of our hearts can never empty, but more and more of it will be ours as our souls grow in faith, in trust and in love”.
But listening for God is hard. We have too much stimulus already. There is too much to read in our facebook, twitter, email, blog, newspaper, magazine-driven world. There is too much to hear in our You Tube, reality show, CNN, Diane Ream, mp3, podcast world. Too often there are too many people in our lives. It is hard enough paying attention to the people we love. It is hard enough paying attention to ourselves. It is hard paying attention to the beauty of creation while trying to pay attention to work, while paying attention to the news enough to know to pray for violence stricken families in Ohio, to pray for tornado and storm victims in Indiana and the South and Midwest. So we need to discipline ourselves to filter the information so that we better participate in God’s love in the world.
I really did not need to read everyone’s comments on Facebook about Rush Limbaugh’s asinine words this week – in the time I spent reading, I could have gone for a walk. I want to be informed, but I also want to put down the smart phone, put away the laptop, turn off the TV and the radio to ensure there is enough time in my life to be present to people and God’s world. As we are present to reality, we become more present to God.
So this Lent, I urge you to consider how you are attentive to the people in your life. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is said to have gotten tired of smiling his big smile and saying the usual things at White House receptions. So, he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed his big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” People automatically responded with comments like “how lovely!” or “Just continue your great work!” Nobody listened to what he was saying, except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat responded softly, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.”
It is hard to be attentive, especially if you are busy. Just yesterday, a friend called as I was working on this sermon. I answered the phone. She shared that a lethargy that had set upon her. She was bored and sad. Throughout the conversation, I quietly typed. I was writing a sermon about being attentive. But too much of me was relating to keyboard, monitor, and composition. I heard her, but I was not listening. So as a Lenten discipline to carry on into the year, I will put away electronics when someone wants to talk.
Jesus taught a parable about a sower who sowed seed on all types of soils. Crusty hard soils where Spirit seeds couldn’t penetrate and birds snatched. Too often we construct hard barriers around ourselves to keep God and others out. Rocky, superficial soils where Spirit seeds couldn’t find enough depth and the sun scorched them. Too often we get into ruts of living that have little purpose, little consideration, little compassion, little depth. Thorny, weedy, competitive soils where Spirit seeds couldn’t compete with other passions and priorities and they choked. Too often we fill our lives with idols of busyness and God’s ever present being is choked from view.
But Jesus promises nutrient rich soil. A way of being that ensures fruitfulness 30% greater yields, 60% greater, event 100% more than the other soils. I believe every one of us has that nutritious Spirit soil within reach. Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Be attentive! Let anyone with ears, eyes, hands, tongues, noses, hearts, spirits, and love receive God and each other and bear fruits of joy beyond imagination. Amen.
James S. Hewitt (ed.), Illustrations Unlimited. p318.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence. pp40-41.
James S. Hewitt (ed.), Illustrations Unlimited. p318.