Holy Listening

February 1st, 2011
This article is featured in the Holy Conversation (Feb/Mar/Apr 2011) issue of Circuit Rider

He was sitting across from me in our small group gathering, head bowed and hands clasped in his lap. It seemed a bit unusual for him to suddenly move from an intense declaration to an attitude of prayer, but he's a devout fellow so I was sure he’d rejoin the conversation soon. Then I realized he was doing the infamous "Blackberry Prayer.” He was checking email on his phone!

There are multiple offenses that can frustrate conversation partners. Not paying attention is one, long-windedness another. Argumentative antagonism is a show stopper and meandering digression tends to muddy the waters.

Carl Rogers taught about the importance of practicing "mutual curiosity." That seems a promising if elusive principle for fostering genuine conversation where two or more are gathered and actually listening to each other.

There are reports about how texting and tweeting and similar digital utterances are affecting the quality of language and the character of dialogue. You may have read about theories that widespread use of these cryptic fragments is training the brains of young people with long-term consequences for their thought processes and human interactions.

Have you noticed in restaurants, in small groups, on TV, and in the blogosphere how often it appears that many are talking but far fewer are actually listening? I saw a play recently that dealt with themes of cross-cultural relationships where the youthful "outsider" said plaintively to his girlfriend's father, "What good is it if I work hard to learn your language, if you still won't listen?"

We might do well to count holy listening as a prerequisite for holy conversation. Listening first for “the still small voice of God,” we could pray for alertness of mind and heart so we experience the in-breaking of the Spirit and ask for the combined eagerness and patience that allow us to delight in the wisdom, naïveté, and probing questions of others.

Perhaps what helps make conversations holy is less about the talking and more about the listening.

About the Author

Neil M. Alexander

Neil M. Alexander is President and Publisher Emeritus of the United Methodist Publishing House. read more…
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