Pay Attention to How You Listen

“Pay attention to how you listen!” Jesus tells his disciples.

We hear a similar admonition to us from the Rule of Benedict: “Listen with the ear of your heart.” In Benedictine lectio divina (sacred reading), we practice holy listening. And, I would say all real listening is holy. We begin with listening to the word itself with our ears, making sure we really hear it. In this continuum of listening, we then bring the mind’s eye to see it, then we listen to how that word resonates within our heart, and the fourth step of listening is when we really shut up and let that deep, deep mind within us listen without word or comment. At this point we are at rest, yet our deeper self continues in a deep listening. It is here where the listening is beyond all words. It is that silent listening where we are changed. But it does not end there.

Can we listen to one another in the same way? Jesus’s admonition to listen to one another requires paying attention to how we listen to one another. As lectio is sacred listening, so real listening to another person is sacred. As God opens our hearts to speak to us in lectio, so God opens our hearts to listen to another person. When we listen to one another, we are changed and so is our world.

Jesus’s admonition is clear: “Pay attention to how you listen!” Even in the most ordinary conversations with another it takes an awareness, an openness and an internal silence that is a godly attention. It takes time. We say in our culture, “Time is money.” Benedict and Jesus say, “Time is people.”

Charles Preble, OblSB