2nd Sunday of Lent (A)
A symphony of collected works from mystics, theologians, biblical scholars and spiritual writers fill the shelves of our home library.
At times like these I long to hear the first notes of those who have done the work of listening and who have transcribed the delicate tones of their spiritual experiences into timeless classics. People like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, John O’Donohue, C.S. Lewis, Kathleen Norris, Thomas Merton, Carlo Carretto, Rainer Maria Rilke, (just to name a few—honestly too many to list) of the diverse living and deceased writers whose books inspire me to listen, to block out the current cacophony and attune myself to the sometimes silent voice of God.
This Lent in particular, I find myself reaching for the wisdom of Henri J.M. Nouwen, the beloved Dutch priest, professor and author of more than 40 volumes on the spiritual life. In regards to his prolific writing, Nouwen said,“By giving words to these intimate experiences I can make my life available to others.”
Many compilations of Nouwen’s writing have been produced including “From Fear to Love” a booklet (now out of print) of Lenten reflections culled from Nouwen’s beloved classic,”The Return of the Prodigal Son,” which was inspired by Rembrandt’s painting of the same name.
Today, the Second Sunday of Lent (A) we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. I’ve read this gospel so many times but this year, this month, this week the command to listen really struck me.
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [MT 17:5]
Nouwen’s reflection, taken from “From Fear to Love,” cites Mark’s version of the Transfiguration, but does so in a way that addresses our collective listening problem.
“The question is how to go from an absurd life to an obedient life, from a deaf life to a listening life. If you are anxious and nervous and tense and upset, you don’t listen because your anxiety allows you no space to listen.
You can’t receive the voice of God that assures us, “You are with me always, and all I have is yours.” Let us try to give time and space to that amazing voice, speaking in our hearts.
Listening is creating the space in which you can hear the voice that says, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, you are special to me. All that is mine is yours.” The whole Gospel, the whole message of Jesus, is precisely that: “All that is mine is yours. All that I say is for you to hear, all that I know is for you to know, all that I do is for you to do.” Jesus is saying, “Nothing that the Father gave me do I hold back from you.”
Really try to listen to that so as to gradually become like Jesus. That is the journey of our adult life.”
Nouwen says to go from an absurd life to an obedient life requires listening, making space in our hearts, to discern our belovedness, so that we might become like Jesus. Like many days that have gone before, the voice of God is increasingly hard to hear, and many people (perhaps unintentionally, or not) make it their life’s work to silence Jesus’ command to Love.
Yet, no time has passed in the history of humankind that the command to listen to Jesus was more urgent than it is today. Perhaps like me, you might want to tap into the wisdom of a beloved spiritual writer, someone like Henri Nouwen, who can help you hear, too.
Today’s readings can be found here.
From the inside front cover of From Fear to Love: From Fear to Love ©The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust was drawn from the audio recording entitled “Returning: Reflections on the Prodigal Son © The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. This booklet was edited by Mark Neilsen and Sue Mosteller for Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Drive, Fenton, MO 63026. All rights reserved.
3 thoughts on “Really Listen”
I look back and see what a difference it has made to the cultivation of this skill of listening to have been a language teacher. Not only that but to live in a non-native language environment where I am not fluent also requires that I listen very carefully and try to catch whole messages. On good days, I recognise that this kind of listening has done wonders for my attention!
On a side note, I remember the amazement I felt when I first learned the connection between listening (actively attending, I think, rather than passive hearing) & obedience in the Latin ob+audire. To follow, to act in response to the word, following the ear. This is something worth noticing, I think, in our visual-dominated world.
It doesn’t usually take me 11 days to respond, nevertheless (she persisted).
Kate, I so enjoy your etymological notes. Words are…amazing. <and I apologize for that lazy word choice, but because I am often stopped in my tracks by the vastness of language, the arts and literature, and other people's brilliance I do enjoy the word: amazing.
The idea of ob+audire, to follow the ear, is much more appealing than they way we have come to understand the word obedience. i.e. do as I say.
I am so visually dominant it is hard for me to listen without crafting images and metaphors from which I can draw meaning. Sometimes when I reflect back what I think I heard the speaker say using the image that arose in my mind I realize it is too nuanced to be of any use to anyone but me and sends a message that I really did not listen. Other times however, when I share the image it deepens the speaker's meaning and creates an opening for some of the most interesting and memorable dialogues.
[As a form of exercise listening is the CrossFit of cognitive skills] 🙂
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I like the word ‘amazing’ too, when used consciously 😉, that labyrinthine wonder of consciousness made visible AND shareable, yes! And the formation & use of images you describe here is beautiful and can be so healing if you’re sharing the same frequency with someone, definitely!