Yesterday morning, long before anybody else arrived in Church, I let myself into the Church and spent a bit of time in thought and in prayer. During this time, I picked up my copy of the rule of Benedict (as you do) the rules of the Benedictine monks. It was the very first word of the first rule that lept off the page at me;
As the rule expands, he goes on to say;
Before you start anything new, listen.
I found myself reflecting on the story of the boy Samuel in the temple. He is settled down for bed and hears a voice calling him so, he rushes to Eli’s side. After several time of this happening, the penny drops for Eli and he realises that it is God speaking and says to Samuel when you hear the voice again say;
“speak Lord for your servant is listening”
(1 Samuel 3 vs. 9)
It’s been commented upon many times that in our prayer lives we often change it to “listen Lord your servant is speaking”. It really struck me how Benedict began his rule with such a profound instruction. Listen.
I believe many of us struggle with hearing.
In a physical sense, the gift of hearing, of being able to listen, is something that we don’t fully appreciate until our hearing starts to fail. Being “a bit mutton” has been turned into a bit of a joke. Many deaf people end up feeling isolated and lonely trapped in a world where they just cannot participate to the fullest extent. Those of us who can hear, cannot begin to understand the frustration that many deaf people feel maybe it comes from taking our hearing for granted, in fact, we often choose not to hear.
There is a background noise of life, chatter, traffic and the music. For many years we lived in a place called Wednesbury which is just off the M6, the background rumble of the traffic was a constant to the point where we no longer heard it. I remember, one night, getting up to the bathroom. It was really strange. I felt quite spooked and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. It was only after a while I realised, there was no traffic. No background hum from the M6. I found out in the morning that there had been an accident and police had closed the motorway.
Listening. Really listening, is one of the hardest things that we can learn to do but it is also one of the most precious gifts that we can give to another.
As Benedict goes on in his rules he talks about the need to not only listen with our ears, he talks about listening with our hearts. I believe that is something that the Christian Church needs more desperately than ever these days. There is so much noise in this world anger, frustration and so many competing voices telling us what we need to do and so to actually hear the voice of God is incredibly difficult. The prophet Isaiah says;
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
(Isaiah 55 vs. 2)
The problem is that when we hear all of the other competing voices, what is happening with us is it becomes a bit like “snacking” a little bit seems to do the trick and then, we are soon hungry again. It only meets our inner hunger for a very short period of time.
A snack is quick, a feast takes time.
For our souls to be fully satisfied we need the feast that can only be found as learn to hear the voice of God.
I don’t know what you are thinking of for the New Year. Whether the annual diet begins on 1st or 2nd of January and ends on the 3rd. But I really want to encourage you to think about is cultivating a heart that really listens to God