My knee-jerk response to listening is–well–to respond. In other words, unless I come to listening with some real intentionality, I listen “in order to.” I listen in order to respond. I listen in order to come up with a solution. I listen in order to repair. I listen in order to correct. I listen in order to help. I listen in order to do. I even (maybe these days that’s especially) listen in order to argue, to fight, and to defeat an opponent. Just recently I listened to a man talk about a political candidate just so that I could tell him how wrong he was. I’m not too proud of that, but ’tis the season and I am easily seduced into it.
I think about another kind of listening. It’s the experience most of us have when we pray–whatever prayer means to us. Almost without exception to the religious tradition, prayer is a conversation we have with someone not visible. That someone could be a Divine Being, a god, a goddess, the Spirit of Love, Silence. That someone could be a loved one who has died. It could be a Sense of Nature or Beauty, like sitting and speaking into the vast beauty of a sunrise or sunset, a sky full of stars, the pulse of the ocean tides or the songs of birds singing in the light of dawn.
The reason that what we call prayer doesn’t matter, and why it doesn’t matter who or what we are talking to is this: with rare exception, when we speak in prayer, we are received in a special silence. Most people who pray and do it more than once acknowledge something that holds us in prayer. That great silence is not so much a sense that no one is there, but that someone is listening. We are held by listening.
This is not an exposition on prayer so much as this little inquiry. What if I chose to practice listening like prayer? What if I could offer to those who speak to me the same kind of holding presence that Divine Mystery offers me when I pray? Just like I don’t pray when I need an address (I look it up in the appropriate resource), I know that not every conversation is one where I can listen like prayer. But, enough of them are just that–occasions where the best thing I can do is just offer a presence that holds the other. No advice, no solutions, no answers, no help, no fix, and certainly no argument required.
I need to practice.