For the last two years I’ve been meeting weekly with a CMC small group that discusses the daily meditations of Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. We meet Wednesdays at noon over Zoom. Anyone is welcome.
This week’s theme is about listening, and today’s meditation features the words of author Kay Lindahl. She writes: “Listening is a creative force. Something quite wonderful occurs when we are listened to fully. We expand, ideas come to life and grow, we remember who we are.”
Our typical format after checking in with each other is to read through one of the week’s meditations, followed by a free flowing discussion, ending in prayer. With listening as the theme we added a twist. Before speaking, each person had to briefly summarize what they heard the person before them saying.
This changed the nature of the conversation in (at least) two noticeable ways. One was that we had to listen closely to each other. We’re typically good at this, but sometimes it’s easy to slip into waiting your turn to speak. If everyone is doing this, no one is listening well. The second effect was more silence in between comments. We had each been so fully in listening mode that we needed space to internalize what had been said, think how we would summarize that in our own words, and only then could we ponder what we might want to add ourselves. This takes time!
The conversation brought out parts of our listening autobiographies. One person commented how much more natural it is for them to listen to teens and young people than adults. In other words, young people bring out the best of their listening skills, and they treasure the gifts of what they hear.
About person described their grandmother as their model of a wonderful listener – door always open, available to sit and listen around a table and cup of tea. We wondered whether we could be that grandparent figure for others – and, importantly, how the presence of certain physical objects like a mug or an inviting table or a cozy couch, create an environment where listening wants to happen.
We discussed what it’s like to listen to someone we strongly disagree with and whether we might run some social experiments on using active listening rather than delivering a counter argument – to disrupt the predictable flow of discourse. Not to confound the other but to actually seek to understand. One person observed how even the word “discourse” contains the prefix “dis” which means “not.” Discourse is too often a negating experience.
As simple as it is, hearing someone tell you what they heard you saying is a powerfully validating experience. It starts to get downright exciting when someone else’s close listening to you actually helps you listen better to yourself.
As Lindahl suggests, listening is indeed a creative force. It could be a fresh take on God as Creator. God as the ultimate Listener.