Listening to the Silence

Written on: September 17, 2019

From a Faith Perspective Column, Bucks County Courier Times September 15, 2019 (used with permission)
Sister Eileen White, GNSH

I wear hearing aids. They’re bothersome. They make my ears itch for one thing. The batteries last only one week for another. But, they help. I can hear better when I wear them. Especially if I am really listening. That is really the key. If I care about what is being said or sung or preached or taught, I need to pay attention.

This week I have had the privilege of attending prayerful and reflective lectures by an outstanding Catholic professor of theology, Rev. Anthony Gittins. Gittins hails originally from England but taught for many years at the Chicago Theological Union and has written several exceptional books about Christian discipleship. I mention hearing because one of the principal themes of Gittins reflections has been on the importance of listening, being open to hearing God’s messages, to being attentive to the myriad ways that God “speaks” to humankind and to each of us individually.

I have been trying to pay close attention each day to what Father Gittins presents. His lectures are only about 45 minutes long and he is an engaging speaker, the kind of teacher who recognizes that we all have different learning styles. He distributes notes that help us follow. When he gives us a phrase in English, he often complements it with the original Greek or Hebrew, but only to ensure that we get a fuller appreciation of the meaning. He mixes some humor in with the serious.  All of which helps me to really listen.

But one thing that is quite clear and at the same time quite mysterious about striving for a relationship with the Holy One, God, is that listening for God’s “voice” requires a lot more than hearing aids and a great lecturer or a wonderful book (like the Bible).

It requires listening to life, paying attention to all that makes up life:  a baby’s first word; leaves changing in fall; falling in love; the grandeur of mountain and ocean; tragedy, illness, death, grief; and also joy, wonder, stillness, silence.

Christians believe that Jesus came to reveal God’s overwhelming and incredible loving goodness and that our encounters with that goodness invite us to mirror, in whatever tiny way we are able, that same loving goodness. Listening hard to life and all that life offers, I pray often to “see the face of Jesus.”  Sometimes, that is powerfully granted to me, for example, in the courageous faces of those who went to Newark recently to be arrested to protest current immigration policies that ignore the humanity of families seeking asylum. I have encountered Jesus, too, in my Sisters who, at 85 and 90 years, are reaching out to their neighbors who are lonely or abandoned or ill.  No doubt you have also experienced God’s compassionate presence and hopefully, taken note.

I love a hymn we often sing at Catholic Mass that begins with these lines, “I will come to you in the silence . . . You will hear my voice . . . be still and know I am here.”   At 74, I am just beginning to really understand (after all these years and all these opportunities!) that hearing that voice is much more likely if I allow time in my life not only for my work, my community, my family, rest and fun and my service to others, but also for stillness, for silence, for reflection on what God is saying in my life. Psychologists and sociologists are pretty much in agreement that “mindfulness” is a healthy practice for our brains – to reduce stress and improve attention.  Mindfulness is simply staying in the present moment – not an easy task in today’s frantic pace and noisy world.   But, for people of faith, stillness, meditation, centering prayer, and other spiritual exercises of quiet attentiveness to God can open us to “hear” God’s call.  I recommend it – for myself and for you!

No hearing aids required.

Photo Credit: Josh Adamski/Unsplash

One thought on “Listening to the Silence

  1. Sr. Eileen Spanier, GNSH says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful reflection. I feel so richly blest to have this time in my life to “be still” even though I struggle at times when I feel I am not being “productive”. You have helped to remind me so, once again I can refocus.

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