28 February 2012

On Listening

Over these past few months I have not regularly occupied a pulpit.  Over these past few months I have not really, on a regular basis occupied a pew either.  Part of the reason stems from the sense of loss: of habit, community, and identity  Part of it also stems from having to be silent!  Because preachers...well, ur...preach, we make a good part of our living talking.  Have you ever been to a meeting of preachers?  It is one of the most anxious gatherings on the planet - everyone wants to say something.  But what if you talk for a living and don't have a listening audience?  Perhaps you can hear my dilemma.

As the days of Lent are rolling by I want to look, find, and hear the blessings of my current situation.  I begin with my listening education.  My schooling took place with the first realization of how intertwined my spirituality was tied to my job.  It took me a good while to figure out how to pray again.  I realized how I took the act and practice of prayer for granted in my professional duties: prayer before a service, before reading, while writing, & etc.  So at dinner over the past few months, on a semi-regular basis - the theo-billy (for those who wonder about the correct pronunciation) family has been praying at dinner.  A thanksgiving for the meal, for the day, for our families, friends, teachers, world, the workers who harvested the food, the earth which provides our sustenance, etc.  It has been an amazing sound to hear my kids and wife praying.  Thus began my journey on listening.

Listening, that odd trait that we all say we are good at but really ain't.  I've been working on listening.  I'm hearing things that I didn't hear before: not so much new sounds like the squirrel who lives in our walls or the cats that whine outside our windows, gentle kicking of the table at meal times but the tones in voices of confusion, of hurt, of joy, of hope, of despair.  Sure, as a pastor, father, husband, friend, son, brother, neighbor I heard all of those tones before but not in the way I have over the past few months, they have been more crisp.   Now I fully know that a preacher has to earn the right to speak for and with (and even against) his/her congregation by listening to his/her congregation.  And I know fully know the importance of listening as a discipline of pastoral care.  But there is another level of this listening that I did not know existed.  Eyes have a sound of their own I never heard before.  The sound of happiness is more than smiles and giggles.  

I tell you something else.  I've been amazed at how little silence there is in a worship service.  Even though I have not been a regular at any one house of worship I have made my way into a synagogue, a chapel or two and some nice sanctuaries for services.  Perhaps the only "regular spot" has been at my computer listening to the live feed of Harvard's Memorial Church, still hoping to hear Peter Gomes' voice again.  I have always loved silence but never fully appreciated it in a worship service.  I have always been too nervous about the length of silence -  I became anxious about it, afraid people would be too uncomfortable.  But sitting in the pews one realizes how little silence there really is. And when it's present it vanishes too quickly.  The words, rhythms, and sounds need a little more time to sink in and penetrate.  Is it that what folk really want in a sermon/service something to think about and chew on for the week?  By all means yes, but I also think they want something to get into the marrow...and that takes time and stillness and silence.  

O world of sounds speak, teach me for I want to listen.

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