I offer you two brief stories. The first – a familiar story (one of many versions that can be found on the Internet) –
There once was a man that prayed, “God, speak to me.” And a meadowlark sang. But the man did not hear.
So the man spoke aloud: “God, speak to me!” And thunder rolled across the sky. But the man did not listen.
The man looked around and said, “God, let me see you.” And a star shone brightly. But he noticed it not.
The man then shouted, “God, show me a miracle.” And a babe was born. But the man was unaware.
The situation in the second story may also have a familiar ring –
A woman was having difficulty communicating with her husband … (or I could say two Benedictines Sisters were having difficulty with that same problem). Each had concluded that the other must be hard of hearing. So, (in the original scenario) the wife decided to conduct a test without her husband knowing about it.
One evening she sat in a chair on the far side of the room. Her husband’s back was turned to her so he could not see her. The room was very quiet; no TV was playing. She whispered, “Can you hear me?” There was no response.
Scooting a little closer, she asked again, “Can you hear me now?” Still no reply. Quietly she edged closer and whispered the same words, but still no answer.
Finally, she moved right in behind his chair and said, “Can you hear me now?” To her surprise and chagrin, he responded with irritation in his voice, “For the fourth time, yes!”
And Jesus said: Whoever has ears ought to hear.
So, pondering both of these stories, we might ask:
- When God speaks, do we make sure we don’t miss some part of the message because the blessing is not packaged the way we expected?
- Is the problem that God is not speaking? Or, that we are not listening?
- Or, is the third step where we fail – Are we listening and hearing but, then, failing to act on what we hear?
We are all well aware of Benedict’s opening word to us in his Rule – it’s the same that Jesus speaks in this Gospel: Listen. According to a footnote in my Bible, the phrase “Let they who have ears, let them hear” (or a similar expression) appears approximately 14 times in Scripture. I find this interesting because the number 14 is considered to be a symbol of salvation and deliverance. The 14th day of the first Hebrew month is Passover – the celebration of the deliverance from death of the firstborn of the Children of Israel. The angel passed by all the homes where the doorposts had been painted with blood. The word “Hear” (h e a r) in Greek means to understand, to perceive the sense of what is.
Benedict’s first word (in the Rule) – LISTEN is the key to what he says in the last two chapters of the Rule. If only that one instruction were heeded, what an impact it could make on our own happiness and it would foster concord between peoples. Isn’t attentive listening the master key that opens our hearts for good zeal? Deep, sensitive listening is the undergirding to mutual obedience, anticipating one another’s needs, picking up on feelings, being aware when we’ve pushed another’s “buttons” and recognizing we need to change the course of this interaction. To truly listen requires an attentive spirit. Recall some of the points in Celeste Headlee’s TED talk that we viewed the other evening [Celeste Headlee 10 ways to have a better conversation] Simple things but ones that take attention and self-discipline to put into practice. Celeste reminded us: if your mouth is open, you’re not listening; if you want to pontificate, write a blog; listen to people and be prepared to be amazed; everyone is an expert at something!”
Jesus and Benedict each offer us a challenging but attainable ideal. When the monastic breaches the ideal, we are expected to humbly ask forgiveness both from God and from our Sisters-in-Christ to whom we freely pledge to “form bonds of mutual love and respect and to call forth the best in one another.” (community Philosophy statement 2018)
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
First Reading Isaiah 55: 10-11 Second Reading Romans 8:18-23
Gospel Matthew 13: 1-9