Gorgeous weather beckoned Mike and me to sit on the back porch this week. Exhausted from yard work, we sat in silence taking in the sounds of spring. First came the whoosh of dove wings flapping against the air and landing under our bird feeders with a low and gentle, “Coo, Coo.” Next we heard the familiar sound of an unseen cardinal calling, “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie!” A robin seemed to answer with a musical tweet that sounded like, “Cheer up, Cheer up, Cheer up!” Soon there was an entire symphony of birds serenading a deep orange setting sun. Without trying, we were practicing presence.
Throughout the week, I noticed the many chances I had to be fully present by fully listening. There was the wonderful jazz concert at our local museum featuring two cellists and a pianist with the voice of an angel. There was a bible study on Esther. A touching eulogy for a dear friend’s mother. A sermon on Daniel. A couple of meetings. Several prayers and songs of praise. And many conversations. Each experience was enhanced by being present and truly listening.
Listening can be hard. As a teacher, I often saw thirty faces sitting in front of me in complete silence. I’d like to think they were mesmerized by my every word, but I know from experience they were not. They were thinking about middle school drama, how their hair looked, or what was for lunch. They were looking through me at something across the room, or out the window, or in a daydream.
One time I was in a passionate lecture on some beautiful piece of literature when a student suddenly raised his hand. “Yes?” I said expectedly. He asked matter of factly, “Did you get your hair cut?” Every teacher empathizes with the classroom scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In a dreadfully monotone voice, the teacher repeats, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” That poor burned-out teacher may as well have been talking to a wall.
Adolescents aren’t the only ones who have trouble listening. Have you ever thought you were listening, only to suddenly realize you’d been off in la-la-land? It can be difficult to stay present. We can be better listeners by setting an intention to clear our minds and stay present. When our thoughts drift off, we can gently bring them back again and again.
Mother Teresa said, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” Sitting outside on that beautiful evening did feel a little like a prayer, and I thanked God for the happy sounds of spring and for my sweet husband sitting beside me. Listening is a way to show our gratitude for music, for sermons, for conversation, for sounds of nature that make our hearts sing like the birds on a gorgeous spring day. §
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
~ Reginald Holmes, poet of The Magic of Sound
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