Sometimes I think much of what we call civilized behavior is nothing more than socially accepted gestures that allow us from being considered impolite as we assiduously sidestep having to listen to one another. I referring here to really listening, to actually hearing another person—an act that is, as we all know, all too rare.
A friend of mine, Zack Eswine recently published a book that is a superb exploration of what it means to care and minister to people in a broken world. Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, as the title implies, never trails off into theory removed from the realities of ordinary, daily life. Though written by a pastor for church leaders, because it is rooted explicitly in the life and teaching of Jesus, it sheds light on what it means for ordinary people to intentionally walk through life caring for others in the ways that matters
Including learning to hear.
A story is told about a naturalist and his friend walking amid the frenzy of a New York City sidewalk. The naturalist suddenly stops as if he is listening for something. “Do you hear that cricket?” he asks his bewildered friend. “How can you hear a cricket with all of this noise?” the friend replies. “We hear what we are trained to hear,” the naturalist replied. Then he pulled a quarter out of his pocket and dropped it upon the sidewalk. Immediately a handful of passersby stopped and looked down.
While this story is fable-like, there is truth to recognize in the notion that “we hear what we are trained to hear.” Jesus knows this. The widow among the rich [in the Temple] puts in her two small coins. It is hard to hear her two coins amid the jingle and clink of the wealthy. Theirs drown out hers. Their voices fill our ears. Her tiny devotion, small, unnoticed, underestimated— it calls out and says among all the importance, “Look around. Listen. God is here.” Jesus recovers the sound of the widow and her coins, and the disciples learn to hear again (Luke 21:1-4).
According to Jesus, there are two kinds of hearing. This is what Jesus means when he says, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23). Jesus calls us beyond recognizing sounds to obeying or responding or discerning the meaning of the sounds.
|From My Dinner with Andre (1981)|
To hear with the ear only is to recognize.
To hear with understanding is to discern.
To hear with the ear requires only that one's eardrums work.
To hear so as to understand requires that one's soul remain attentive and receptive to the goings on in another.
To hear with the ear one need only nod the head and shuffle the voice into “mhm” and “uh-huh.”
To hear truly, however, one must ready herself to experience the life of another, and from that experience, to understand that other.
To hear with the ear only is to categorize, explain, and move on.
To truly hear is to name the nuance, to understand the meanings, to separate out what is consistent from what is not, and to let what is mysterious or confounding remain for another day.
To hear with the ear only is to quote the Bible.
To hear truly is to bend one's life toward the meaning of the quote in Jesus and by his grace. (pp. 194-195)
Learning to hear might be one of the most difficult tasks imaginable in our postmodern world.