Hard stuff isn't it?
Because if we really listen it means we must filter out as much of the extraneous world as we possibly can and concentrate on the sound/words being made or said.
This goes against the norm for most of us. Jump in the car and on goes the radio. Shut the door at home and click on the TV. It is as though silence is our enemy.
This often malignant noise blocks out our responsibilities. That blasting car music can drown out the wailing siren of an ambulance, police car, fire engine. Crack the driver's side window a tad so you can slow down, pull over to the right hand side and let the rescue vehicle by.
Pop in those ear buds, crank up the music and click – you've shut out the rest of the world. You don't hear the screeching brakes and honking horn as you mindlessly step out into traffic. Just the deafening music.
Screens you out too from friends, family, colleagues. You don't have to hear what they say, offer, need, want.
Once, a gaunt man called out as I was leaving a service station/fast food restaurant asking for money for food. I turned away towards my car but it was if I was physically stopped as my mind flashed to the mural in Marian Centre showing Christ in the lineup for food.
I turned back and asked what he – his name was George – would like to eat. George said thank you for the Papa Burger and I felt such shame at almost not hearing the cry of the hungry.
For many, we appear to be listening but it's just a sham. We may be listening, but we are not hearing.
As G.K. Chesterton wisely points out, "There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing."
It is the same when it comes to talking to God. Prayers can be recited with decades of use dexterity. There. That's done.
That's the coward's way out.
"Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to him, being attentive to him, requires a lot of courage and know-how," says Trappist monk Thomas Merton.
Recently I have been wrestling with a choice I must make, a decision that would impact the rest of my life. I prayed. Oh how I prayed.
And I remembered walking behind two physicians years ago as they strode along the Harvard Yard sidewalk in Boston.
I heard one say to the other, "But can you make this your life's work?"
I tucked that bit of wisdom away and found it popping up in my prayers.
While not my life's work – that is, it would not supplant journalism – it would be how I spend a day of my week.
Finally, probably with a bit of angelic help, I realized I was missing out on a major component of the prayer.
"God, how can I best serve you?"
Again, I prayed and prayed.
Kneeling in a church setting amongst others also in prayer, the guidance finally came. The answer so startled me, I called out loud, "Are you sure God?"
If ever anyone deserved a good thump on the head . . .
Listening to God means being open to wee angel wing nudges. My aunt is a solitary soul and lives in a retirement community in a distant city. She kept tripping into my thoughts until I finally gave in and called her.
Expecting a short, brisk Merry Christmas conversation, I was ever so worried when the "Hello" was shaky and weak. She told me she had a stroke. The community is caring for her and she is now able to make her way to the dining room.
I asked what I could do. And for the first time in our lives, she asked – indirectly – for something. She told me of seeing another resident's gorgeous bouquet and said how she loved flowers. So I hied off to the florists and sent an arrangement – a Thomas Kinkade winter setting complete with music box surrounded by an abundance of sumptuous blooms – to her.
I won't hear back, for that's her way. That's alright. I know I did what the angels wanted.
I'll keep working on listening because listening is worth working for and is the passport to God and his and my community.