Listening Well: Heart, Mind & Body
Heart. Mind. Body.
Let’s talk more about listening well. Listening well involves the heart, activates in the mind, and expresses itself in the body.
We start by wanting to listen, valuing the other person and caring for them. Listening is an act of caring, and that’s why it starts with the heart. We begin by preparing our hearts to be open to someone, to love them and to want to be part of sharing with them as they speak. This isn’t romantic love, or just a warm fuzzy feeling, but it’s the kind of love which comes from understanding that God loves them and values them, and so they are important to me as well. I begin by cultivating a heart that is open to the one speaking.
Next we make the choice to listen; this is where our minds come in. It’s a play on words, but while we may not always have a choice when it come to hearing something, we can always make the choice to listen. I need to clear my mind of other distractions, set aside other things I’ve been thinking about and bring the person speaking into focus. I have to stop my mind, rally my attention and turn it to the one speaking, concentrating on what they say and how they say it.
Finally, our bodies help us to bring the other person into focus. We put down our phones and close our notebook computers to avoid their distracting screens and notifications. We make eye contact. We use our body language, facial expressions and even our words to convey that we are ready to listen. When someone comes to me and says they need to share something, or maybe I see in their face and body language how important something is going to be, I can say “Just a moment, my mind is spinning” and I stop to take a deep breath, put down my phone and then give them my full attention and say, “Ok, I’m settled and better ready to listen now.”
Decisions & Practices
This is very similar to conversations I’ve been in dealing with topics like eating and studying. Have you been in a conversation with someone about the benefits of not always forcing down meals as fast as possible to get back to work, but slowing down to better enjoy the food and allow our bodies a chance to digest things? When it’s time to read, pray or study do you find the best place to sit, make sure the lighting is good and that you have all the materials you need like reading glasses, a journal and your favorite writing pen and highlighter? We know that investing time and energy to prepare for meals and for study will pay off. If listening is important, then it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We should develop habits and personal practices which help us enter a posture of listening well.
We use our hearts, minds and bodies to prepare ourselves and to listen. These are decisions we make (caring and focusing) and practices we exercise (putting aside distractions and making eye contact) which will pay a rich dividend of better conversations and stronger relationships.
“If, then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”
St. Paul in Philippians 2:1-4, NRSVue
Be blessed, Rev Todd
Life Together: Listening
These are my notes from the sermon of January 8th 2023 as we begin a sermon series Life Together on the foundational practices of building strong relationships and community.
Life Together: Listening, Our First Foundational Practice
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family and friends and everyone gathered for worship this morning. It’s January 8th, a feast day when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord (so we are liturgically white instead of green), the first Sunday after Epiphany, we’re commissioning our Vestry in worship, and we’re starting a sermon series entitled Life Together… sound like enough for one day? As we spend some time with our scriptures and a foundational practice for building our life together, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I love the story we read in John chapter 4 when one day along the hot, dusty road Jesus has an amazing conversation with an unnamed Samaritan woman beside a well. The two talk theology, comparative religion and about life in general. The woman will eventually become quite the evangelist bringing her whole town out to meet Jesus. I love the story because we see Jesus practicing what he preaches… accepting people without judgment, valuing them above societal, national or even religious reasons to withdraw from them, and listening. Yes, listening.
You may remember that back in Advent one of the contrasts we made between the ministries of John the baptizer and Jesus was that we have such a rich record of Jesus not only preaching, but also conversing and spending time with people. It’s something we really don’t have for John the Baptizer. And it’s so important for us to see Jesus with people and not just preaching. Oh, Jesus is a fine preacher, and surely we are who we are because of what Jesus teaches, but we are also so enriched to see him with people in daily life, building relationships and doing life together with the people around him. We’re enriched because this is where we most often find ourselves… not standing in the pulpit and exercising grand oratory skills, but praying together, working and walking alongside each other in the routine of daily life and community needs.
Even for a vocational preacher we’re just talking about a few minutes of each week preaching, ah but doing daily life and building relationships and community is the stuff of every single day. And so even for preachers, as for Jesus, as for all of us, the art of listening is so crucial to valuing and participating with one another.
Jesus Was a Good Listener
I mentioned that in the conversation with this unnamed Samaritan woman we see Jesus practicing what he preaches, and you’re probably familiar with the phrase “Let them with ears hear.” Jesus uses that phrase in conjunction with important parables, as in Luke 8 and the Parable of the Sower, to get people to stop and pay attention to what’s being said. The author of Revelation uses the same phrase many times as messages are delivered to the individually named churches, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, listen up!
Jesus not only asks for us to listen up, but he shows an active interested listening when he’s with people. He’s able to chat and have conversations because he cares about people and what they have to say. The long conversation in John 4 is just one example.
It’s actually one of the first things Teresa and I were taught at seminary in the process of getting our degrees in missiology, rule number one: before you teach, you must learn; before you speak, you must listen. The practical reasons for that are found in things like the importance of learning language and culture so that what you say has a better chance of being sensical and understandable. But the real value is found in making relationships and sharing life before you would try to teach or impart your message.
I’m sure you know the old saying, “No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Listening well conveys valuing, and it lays a firm foundation for all that may come after, like questions, dialogue, and even debate. Listening conveys respect, upholds dignity and brings two or more people closer.
Listening also helps us avoid the relationship breaking anger of speaking too much or too hotly. You’ve probably also heard the old saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so be quiet and listen!” It’s very similar to what James said in our reading this morning in (James 1:19-20)… lean into listening, be quick and curious to hear, but then slow down when you speak… because anger doesn’t bring about God’s righteousness. Oh, we all get angry sometimes, and it can be a good motivator when we need to make some changes in life and the world around us, but it’s not a tool for good when we’re in conversations. It makes us overstate things, tempts us to punish or attack; it leads us astray and begins to separate us further and further apart.
Listening to one another will help understand one another, learn from one another and move forward together. Honestly, I fear that when we stop listening we start competing. When we start competing, we start having winners and losers instead of community. We’ve all been there… we’re in a conversation and when someone starts talking we immediately start thinking of what we’re going to say back. When that happens we not really listening any more. We’re not valuing the person or wanting to understand them, but probably hoping to score a point and win the conversation. Any response we might eventually give will be so much the better for having listened to and having valued the one speaking.
And so our first foundational practice of building life together is the art and practice of listening, giving a gracious and welcoming ear to one another that communicates the love, respect and value we have for one another. And like all practices, it’s something for us to practice! It’s not about having always done it perfectly or being the best at it, but about practicing and making it an intentional habit and growth area.
God Takes the Posture of a Listener
And if we think about it, it’s emulation of God, who we believe is a God of listening. We believe that God hears us when we pray and listens when we cry out in life. As the opening lines of Psalm 116 sing aloud, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” We believe that God gives an ear to us, and what a gift for us to do the same for one another!
Sharing the Gift of Listening Well
O God, we would have ears and we would hear. We would hear you and one another, learning from you and from one another. Develop in us the gracious listening you showed us in Christ and that the Psalmist sings of in your giving us an ear. We would listen to one another in such a way that grows our mutual love and communal bonds. Help us slow our words and churning minds to make more room in our hearts for one another. We ask this in Christ Jesus. Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
October 27, 2012 Redux in 2016
Oct. 27 ~ “If speaking is silver then listening is gold.” Turkish Proverb #civility
Been saving this little dandy for that day when nothing comes to me… and that day was today! Woot for cool old sayings attributed to far away places! And it fits the civility discussion so well!
October 5, 2012 Redux in 2016
Oct. 5 ~ Civility supports the dignity of all persons by allowing all to be heard. #civility
*It’s easy to try to shout over someone. It’s easy to judge someone as not worthy of being heard. Give the gift of hearing someone out. Dignity is a mutual possession, we cannot deny it to one and save it for another.
There is a difference between allowing someone to speak, and listening to them. We have all been in situations where we had a voice, but no one else had ears. A great measure of dignity is afforded to both the speaker and listener when a person is given the gift of being heard.
Letting people speak is a good thing… it is respectful and civil. And it is usually for the most part passive. When we really listen we move from passive to active. Look at the other person, make eye contact, set aside distractions.
Don’t just try to think of the quickest, strongest retort while someone speaks. Instead, listen and let their words be fully spoken, fully heard, and then have a moment to their own. Taking time like this can help both the speaker and listener understand what was said. It’s also amazing how an active, attentive listener can help the speaker focus on their words for greater clarity and efficacy.
We’re talking about actual communication happening! That’s a good thing! It’s a great thing! It’s an affirming partnership even in disagreement.
Listening to Gay Christians
I won’t try to do deep exegesis in every blog post on LGBTQ inclusion. It’s equally worth our time to step back and be reminded that people are people and their stories do mater. I’d also remind us to be mindful of our own stories. Be mindful our own stories? Oh yes, we all have our stories.
It’s time that gay Christians are heard telling their own stories.
It’s time they are allowed to tell their own stories. I’ve noticed, and in the past have been guilty of, a need that many straight Christians feel to frame (and kinda highjack) the stories of their gay brothers and sisters. And when we do that we almost always frame their stories in a way that excludes wholeness, health (spiritual or physical), faithfulness and sincerity. So we use categories that make huge assumptions and use generalizations that do harm. We talk of the gay agenda, the gay lifestyle and we speak from assumptions that a persona’s sexual orientation is always a conscious choice. We speak of assumed abuses in childhood and will seek someone to blame for the gay person’s orientation, yet that framework just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
Here are three stories that I want to ask you to engage… I just today saw the video from a new, Perrin, who courageously shares his story of faith and sexuality. That’s his picture at the top of the post. Please hear him out and take him at his word about his journey of faith and sexuality.
Justin Lee is someone I have named before, a brother in Christ who grew up conservative Baptist, and had to struggle with his faith sexuality. His book Torn is amazing and I highly recommend it. Justin tells his story in a sincere, gracious and compelling way. He wasn’t abused as a child and tried for years to find a way out of being gay. His story of faith and sexuality is valuable to straight Christians and needs to be heard. Justin is the founder of the Gay Christian Network and has many videos on the GCN YouTube channel.
Matthew Vines is the amazing young man who founded The Reformation Project and has written the book God and The Gay Christian. He also grew up in a conservative Christian home and was not abused. I think he’s done a great job in telling his story and helping advance the conversation we need to have about how we read and interpret our scriptures. Matthew has videos available on his YouTube channel as well.
Even as I share these links and names, I have a lump in my throat. Please, don’t go troll them or say un-Christlike things on their media feeds. As the biblical writer James encourages us, let’s “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Let’s all seek to learn and listen, and seek God’s righteousness without anger.
I Want to Be Your Pastor Because You Intrigue Me
I want to be your pastor because you intrigue me. Sounds kinda selfish when I say it like that, huh? But it’s the best way to say it. I’m interested in you, your story, your likes and dislikes, your talents and your experiences. And I’m willing to listen.
There’s an outward movement in Christian spirituality that comes directly from the teaching of Christ and certain Pauline texts which push the envelope on being aware of the people around you. Jesus teaches a “neighborliness” in Luke 10:25-37 that has nothing to do with proximity or gain, but everything to do with seeing needs and moving outside my own wants to serve others, being aware and not just passing by other people’s lives. Paul follows up with a lot of statements about caring about one another, but my favorite is found in Philippians 2:1-11, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
We miss something very important to being human and being a Christian when our religion and spirituality lead us to tell others what to be interested in more than listening to what interests them.
Now, I will at times fail at this very thing I believe so deeply. There will be times I’m caught up in being busy, and I will fail. There will times that I am so interested in my own interests, so excited to tell you what I’m thinking, that I will fail… I am a “preacher” after all.
What I ask, no… what I invite you to do is break in on me. Maybe even, well… shush me. Just do it with some grace and some love. Give me a chance to hear you and understand. I might be distracted some days, but I still want to get to know you.
Please be you, and I’ll try to be me. When we get the authenticity right God’s amazes us, and I’m excited to see where we might go. It’s always been our struggle, to quit bringing God some manufactured gift, some consolation prize, instead of the reality of our open selves, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:15-17.
If I can serve you today, as a pastor and a friend, just let me know.
A Place to Be Heard
One of the most humbling and interesting things to come from my training and experience as a life coach was the realization that I was a really bad listener. You’d think that a pastor, especially one trained to be a cross-cultural learner, would be fairly naturally endowed with listening skills. I’m sure I wasn’t the worst listener, but being “ok” relative to the worst is not all that great.
I was blessed yesterday to visit my first AA meeting, an open meeting with Alcoholics Anonymous. So let me give a quick shout to all my AA friends out there, you rock! And I’m grateful to my good brother who brought me along to the meeting. It’s sometimes a scary proposition to take your pastor out in public, ya know? He stepped out and took a risk, and I was blessed for it!
I’m interested in systems, and so I’ve always been a little interested in AA and the almost mythic power of the Twelve Steps. I was impressed at the meeting, and I almost immediately loved every person I saw. Attending a larger group I was able to see a real diversity, young and old, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, and all the in betweens.
If you’ve never been to a meeting, I suggest you find a larger club to visit. The meeting I attended was close to fifty people, but I didn’t get lost in the crowd. Instead I felt very at home and welcome. It was obvious right away that most of the people there knew each other… this was a community.
And the real lesson of the day for me was that this was a community of listening. It’s such a precious gift to be heard. I was frankly amazed at the way the room sat and listened attentively to the different individuals sharing what was on their hearts or minds. Some were eloquent and others down right hilarious. Some rambled a bit and repeated themselves. None were interrupted. None were corrected. All were heard.
All were heard. This is a powerful reminder for me as a pastor. There are some big differences in the way an AA meeting and a typical Sunday morning worship service are conducted, but the need to be heard is common in both these communities. The gift of being heard is a precious gift, a life-changing moment, in each community. I spend a lot of time selecting songs, studying passages, adapting prayers and building prayer stations… honestly, I spend a lot of time talking. My neighbors at AA yesterday reminded me of my need to invest in time spent listening.
Churches and other faith communities spend a lot of time and energy talking and teaching, but how do we listen? Where do we listen? When do we listen? I’m looking into this in a deeper way this week, and I’m grateful for the good folks I met yesterday who reminded me of such an important truth.
There’s an old saying, “God gave us only one mouth but two ears, so listen!” James (of biblical fame) quips in one of my favorite verses that we should, “…be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Who will I hear, today? Who will you gift with a big basket of listening?