listening

This seems to be turning into a Eugene Peterson quotation blog, I know, but his writing strikes me with beauty and ideas. I’m still reading Reversed Thunder, and when I read this passage the other evening it reminded me strongly of a post I wrote in 2008, with a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that travels a similar trajectory of thought. I appreciate both Bonhoeffer and Peterson for noticing the importance of listening (and for writing about it so beautifully).

We live in a noisy world. We are yelled at, promoted, called. Everyone has an urgent message for us. We are surrounded with noise: telephone, radio, television, stereo. Messages are amplified deafeningly. The world is a mob in which everyone is talking at once and no one is willing or able to listen. But God listens. He not only speaks to us, he listens to us. His listening to us is an even greater marvel than his speaking to us. It is rare to find anyone who listens carefully and thoroughly. It is rare to find our stammering understood, our clumsy speech deciphered, our garbled syntax unraveled, sorted out and heard–every syllable attended to, every nuance comprehended. Our minds are taken seriously. Our feelings are taken seriously. When it happens we know that what we say and feel are immensely important. We acquire dignity. We never know how well we think or speak until we find someone who listens to us.

Persons in love often describe the distinguishing feature of their new relationship in some such words as, “for the first time in my life I can say everything I feel and think.” This is not because they have added new words to their vocabulary or because they have taken speech lessons. It is because they have met someone who listens. True speaking is made possible when there is true listening. What good are words without a listener?

Silence in heaven for about half an hour: God listens. Everything we say, every groan, every murmur, every stammering attempt at prayer: all this is listened to. All heaven quiets down. The loud angel voices, the piercing trumpet messages, the thundering throne songs are stilled while God listens. “Hush, hush, whisper who dares? Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.” The prayers of the faithful must be heard: the spontaneous hallelujahs, the solemn amens, the desperate “Why hast thou forsaken me?” the agonized “Take this cup from me,” the tempered “Nevertheless not my will but your will,” the faithfully spoken “Our Father who art in heaven,” the joyful “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.” All the psalms, said or sung for centuries in voices boisterous, subdued, angry, and serene are now heard–heard personally, carefully, accurately. God silences the elders and the angels. Not one of our words is lost in a wind tunnel of gossip or drowned in a cataract of the world’s noise. “The distinctive feature of early Christian prayer is the certainty of being heard.” We are listened to. We realize dignity. Dramatic changes take place in these moments of silence. The world rights itself. We perceive reality from the vantage point of God’s saving work and not from the morass of desperate muddle. We acquire hope.

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