Sunday, April 29, 2007

Listening in ministry

I've been thinking about the dialog of preaching and of ministry.

I was reflecting, as my time at my field education site draws to a close, that ministry, at its best, might be described as a series of dialogs, and outside of field ed, we don't get much instruction or guidance in ways of opening up those dialogs—with God, with colleagues, with congregation members, with ourselves. In field ed, there has been attentive listening and conversation in reflection and supervision sessions, and with the teaching parish committee there has been feedback, listening and conversation built into the structure.

But we don't appreciate enough the gift of listening, I think, either in the giving or the receiving. I looked to my bookshelf and found two books on listening that I bought and never fully read, that I think I'll peruse over the summer: The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music by W. A. Mathieu (Boston: Shambala, 1991). The cover says it is "about rediscovering the power of listening as an instrument of self-discovery and personal and personal transformation." We've got two ears and one mouth, the old saying goes, so that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

The second book is The Third Ear: On Listening to the World by Joachim-Ernst Berendt (New York: Henry Holt, 1986). Berendt, according to the back cover, is the author of the international best seller The Jazz Book and has done a lot of work in organizing jazz music festivals. "He uncovers startling evidence that suggests dominance of the ear is directly linked to compassion and peacefulness, while reliance on the eye produces divisiveness and aggression. At the core of almost every spiritual tradition—from the West, East, Middle East, Africa Pacific Islands, and the Arctic—lies the knowledge that the world is made of sound and that the way to wisdom lies through the ear."

What the ear of the jazz musician knows or learns is how to hear the way through. If the listening goes awry, then jazz gets derailed, and it's obvious—sort of what happens to the rest of us in life a lot of the time, but we don't get that it's because we weren't listening enough and paying attention. It is so rare that I feel really listened to, rather than that a person is just planning their response while I'm talking. We need to give the gift of time in our listening as well, and not expect immediate response, or perhaps train ourselves to give time to listen in our dialog before we respond.

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