Listening for the Silence

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about listening these days. With all the sounds competing for my attention, listening is more difficult than ever today.  You know what these sounds are—constant “breaking” news on cable, Facebook, Tweet and ‘new’ news alerts and a cacophony of just plain noise!

In the midst of this maelstrom of audio interruption are the voices that are important—those of our children, spouses, colleagues and friends’ who merely want us to hear their hearts.     Stopping to really listen is vital not only to them but also to our own sense of wellbeing and peace.  I speak to leaders about being fully present for those with whom they work.  It resonates for them but, like me, they find it hard to prioritize this essential practice.  My friends and former employers, the Sisters of Mercy explained to me that ‘presence’ was, for them, a charism—literally, GRACE.

I remember this lesson from years ago in all that I do and on good days practice it reasonably well.  When I sit with someone in my office or visit with them in the hall, I work hard to tune out distractions like the ringing phone(s), the clock and e-mail in order to really be with—be present for—this most important person at this moment.

I am reading Anam Cara (“Soul friend”) by the late poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue right now and the following words about listening surprised and inspired me:

“With the sense of hearing, we listen to creation…Sometimes we listen to things, but we never hear them.  True listening brings us in touch even with that which is unsaid and unsayable.  Sometimes the most important thresholds of mystery are places of silence.”

That’s setting the bar even higher, isn’t it?  To listen not only to the spoken but to the unspoken:  The joy, hope, fear, or anticipation that is so often contained in the ‘between the lines’ stuff.  This week, as a husband, Dad, leader and friend, I am going to be intentional about listening for the silence.

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