In the Prologue to Saint Benedict’s Holy Rule we hear: “Listen carefully… with the ear of your heart.” Whether we’re followers of Saint Benedict’s Rule or not, this message can be a healing and community building stance for our world today. As we begin 2013, let’s take a moment to pause and remind ourselves of the breadth and depth of the meaning of this phrase. This is the sort of attentive listening that engages our whole being – body, mind and soul. It is the scriptural message that echoes Psalm 45.11. It is the sort of listening Jesus called for in the gospels.
If we have ever been responsible for the care of another who could not help themselves – we know about this sort of listening. I remember “listening” when my oldest son David was born, for cries from the crib in the middle of the night and initially running to the crib each time to determine the needs. Over time, there a nuanced sort of listening that could sort through the cries that I heard from my bed, allowing me to discern cries for hunger vs. a diaper change, cries of loneliness vs. fear. This kind of distinguishing takes time, experience and stems from the relationship I was building with my son. So does our listening attentively to God in prayer, in scripture, in the world around us. And this sort of listening carries with it a responsibility to act accordingly.
I grew up in a family of mechanics without the luxury of new cars. I learned to listen attentively out of necessity – there were sounds a car made when it was not running properly, that indicated the problem. A failed starter sounded different from a dead battery or running out of gas. Each sound determined the appropriate action. Making the correct analysis required us to suspend judgment until we had all the information. These experiences were a process – not unlike learning to “listening, with the ear of the heart” – both take practice and being present in the moment. Perhaps you’ve had experiences in your life that help you understand the fuller meaning of this gospel call to “listen”?
For those who read the Rule daily, the entire rule is read over three times during a calendar year. On January 1st of each year, we begin at the beginning – with the prologue and the word “listen!”. It sets the tone and offers a succinct though challenging message. Listen grabs our attention – like a sudden call out in silence – an alert – it draws us toward an encounter with God and the world. Esther deWaal best catches the spirit of this first word for me:
“Listen!” I could take that as a summary of the whole of Benedict’s teachings. I could spend the rest of my life pondering the implications of that one word. It plunges me at once, into a personal relationship. It takes me away from the danger of talking about God and not communing with Him.” (A Life-Giving Way, pg 3)
Can we take a risk and “plunge” ourselves into this sort of “listening” knowing that God takes the plunge with us? Are we willing to “ponder the implications” this sort of stance offers even when it challenges us toward change?
Link to the Daily Readings from the Rule: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbejms1.html