So the subject I chose to preach on deals with hearing since a few weeks ago it became loud and clear to me that hearing & listening are not the same. After years of progressive hearing loss & then months of testing and evaluations I finally was fitted with hearing aids. I walked out of the doctor’s office and stopped still in my tracks,
rustling leaves above my head and birds in the branches were getting my attention. It was remarkable, even the sun seemed brighter, the sky bluer & the cotton ball clouds more beautiful.
Sounds I didn’t know I’d missed were ringing and tickling my ears.
I stood there overcome with gratitude & began to speak a prayer out loud, right there on the sidewalk. Usually I pray silently but I was so moved by this whole experience, I spoke out and when I did I didn’t even recognize my own voice!
Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone was watching me. I’d been so engaged in these new sounds, I had no idea someone was quietly observing. I assured them I was not off my beam talking to myself; I was talking to God, actually praying about my new aided ears. They flashed a knowing smile, gave me thumbs up and nodded. Not sure if it was because they had hearing aids or it was they understood praying or some combination of the two or even something else. Whatever it was it was very nice.
Then I came home to my kids, my sister and a friend. They were so happy to see me hearing better. Coriana said she’d not seen me smiling so much in a long time. It was true, I felt brand new. Lisa gave me a big hug; it was HUM for my heart.
Sounds had jumped out at me, enough to be perceived consciously rather than being in the background, or not at all. There’s a big difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening. This can be summed up in one word: ATTENTION. How aware I was of this grabbing my attention.
Hearing is vastly underrated, visual recognition gets more accolades, both vision and conscious thought occur at approximately the same rate. Hearing is quantitatively a faster sense; a sudden sound will grab your attention faster than sight.
This evolved as an alarm system; hearing happens in the dark and even when we sleep. We’ve developed a “volume control”, it’s fine tuned by experience and keeps sounds in balance. Tunes down extraneous noise, keeps it off our cognitive radar. Unless it’s a signal that something dangerous or wonderful is within range that our ears can detect, it puts sounds in the background.
Attention is key and there are different types of attention garnered by different parts of the brain. A loud sudden noise that makes one jump activates the simplest type of attention, the startle reflex; this happens in a tenth of a second. This helps keep us safe. This is automatic, your brain processes this raw sensory input, with the fight or flight response. Scientists call this “the bottom up response”.
In contrast when you pay attention to something you are listening to, music or some other sound that is of interest, the brain goes into a “top down” pathway. This top down pathway engages more of your brain. The cortex, the part of your brain that does more computation, let’s you focus on what you are hearing and tunes out sounds that aren’t as important.
Hearing in short, is easy; it’s your life’s alarm system, a way to escape danger. Listening, really listening is hard when potential distractions are leaping into your ears every fifty thousandth of a second.
So hearing with our ears involves the bottom up & bottom down pathways in our brains but hearing with our hearts is up and down, and an all around process. A hearing heart needs openness to be spirit filled. The Bible has many instructions and confidence builders for us on this.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding:
Other words tune your heart to hearing God. Be still and catch the sacred whispers or louder shout outs. Listening, leads us to living a meaningful and purposeful life, the path many of us have taken. Some find this through meditation; reading scripture, hear it through a sunset or sunrise, climbing a mountain, making music or art or maybe just a slow paced day of fishin.
Everyone is unique in their sacred journey but I’m sure there is not one person here that has not faced difficulties, doubts or been broken hearted. People often get to listening when they are in a pickle or a tough spot. That’s when the serious praying gets going. The ‘prayin and sayin” scenario, I’m sure everyone here has asked God for help, for healing for themselves or people they love. Or situations that are beyond our human ability but not beyond God’s ability. We’ve asked for miracles and probably have experienced some or witnessed some. They don’t occur everyday or at least not daily in individual lives. I think they do occur everyday someplace in this world. I like that, I feel thankful for that.
About 42 years ago I was working as a nurse for an agency that sent me to assignments where a nurse was needed. God had a hand in this for I went to work in a Catholic Seminary that had a 6-bed infirmary. This Seminary was a huge old building and my first day there I rang the bell at the front door & waited quite some time before it was opened. I’d been instructed to ring the bell which was a crank system and very loud. It had to be so they could hear it in this enormous place. They’d told me it would be a long time before it was answered and from the size of the place I understood. Made me think about that scripture,
“Knock and the door will be opened for you”. Didn’t really think about the amount of time it might take to have the door opened, one needed patience.
When it finally was opened I stepped into another world, a step back in time. I was ushered up to the second floor by an elderly monk dressed in a long brown robe. The ceilings were very tall and there were transoms over every door, these were windows to let light into the hall before there was electricity. Walking down the long hall to the end where the six-bed infirmary was we passed rooms whose doors were open and observed priests, sitting in their rooms. Some reading, writing and praying and it was completely quiet except for our footsteps.
This is where I really learned about the Hearing Heart. I observed and experienced an extraordinary peace and love of God from these men. The third floor was occupied by 28 monks that lived in total silence, so I didn’t get to converse with them verbally but did with the heart. Sometimes I’d have to bring some medication to one of them but other than that I was with these priests and monks in the infirmary and those that had rooms along the hall whom I got to know. There were several that I gave medication to but they weren't in the infirmary. I remember one had leukemia and was prescribed by the hematologist one glass of red wine at 4p.m. I would pour out the exact amount that was listed on the med card and spend a bit of time listening to stories he’d tell me as he drank his prescribed wine. Oh he had wonderful stories and a great sense of humor and a deep commitment to God’s word.
Another priest I’d observe was sitting by his window and one day I asked about him. A nurse at the shift change said to leave him alone, he was old and crabby and unapproachable which of course made me curious and brave and I got to know him slowly.
He was 93 years old and spoke 7 languages and wasn’t at all crabby, he was humble and just sort of shy. In time, over months we developed a nice relationship. He’d recite poems or scripture and I’d ask him to say it to me in another language and he would. It was most enjoyable and very lyrical and spirit filled.
One day when I passed his room his door was closed and he didn’t answer my knock or call. I got a ladder to climb up and look through the transom above the door and saw him lying there with blood on his pillow. I quickly summoned Father Superior who always had his big ring of keys so he unlocked door and we brought him to the infirmary. He was weak and ill, he’d had a stroke but he was able to talk. He knew his time was coming to a close here on earth but was not afraid. He spoke with me from deep in his heart and he asked me to do the same. He asked me why I had no children and I told him I’d lost several the doctor said I’d never carry a baby to term. So he blessed me to have a child and I was deeply touched by his sincerity but didn’t really believe the Blessing would be actualized, I hoped a little and tucked back in my mind. It was a month or so before he died and I cared for him with much love. I cared for all of them with much love and was deeply moved by their devotion and commitment to God. The whole atmosphere there was blessed, there aren’t words to describe it but I felt it deep in my heart.
Then on a day off I was talking to my husband in our living room and all of a sudden I felt the presence of this old priest and embraced by love. I went to the phone and called the seminary and they told me the exact time he had died which correlated with when I felt him passing through our living room, with a warm embrace for my heart.
It was not long after that that I learned I was pregnant and when I had my son I named him Cory after, Cornelius John Hayes. He was so respected that the Pope sent a representative from Rome to perform the funeral sacraments. I never once doubted that all of this was a gift from God. Being sent there and experiencing God’s profound love and peace through these men with hearing hearts, it was better than good, it was God and I know that to live by a hearing heart is the best way to live. Not that we don’t need hearing aides or heart aides for deafness and the callouses we develop around our hearts. We do sometimes, we need aids.
There’s a line written by a Sufi poet that says:
“Where there’s a wound light will enter.”
These last few weeks have been filled with wounds and the loss of life. People murdered by a few that were consumed by hate and chose dark destruction instead of light. The darkness needs to be extinguished by speaking up and out, raise the volume of truth. We need the light of truth, of love, of grace and compassion. Those that lost people they loved spoke about ending the violence, the light they showed through such grief was illuminating. They certainly hear with their hearts. I suspect they know this scripture and I will end here with:
I am the light of the world. Who ever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.