Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Wonderful Listening"

Listening with Affection and Excitement

by Brenda Ueland

I want to write about the great and powerful thing that listening is. And how we forget it. And how we don't listen to our children, or those we love. And least of all - which is so important, too - to those we do not love. But we should. Because listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.

This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good.

Who are the people, for example, to whom you go for advice? Not to the hard, practical ones who can tell you exactly what to do, but to the listeners; that is, the kindest, least censorious, least bossy people you know. It is because by pouring out your problem to them, you then know what to do about it yourself.

When we listen to people there is an alternating current that recharges us so we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.

Now, there are brilliant people who cannot listen much. They have no ingoing wires on their apparatus. They are entertaining, but exhausting, too.

I think it is because these lecturers, these brilliant performers, by not giving us a chance to talk, do not let this little creative fountain inside us begin to spring and cast up new thoughts and unexpected laughter and wisdom. That is why, when someone has listened to you, you go home rested and lighthearted.

When people listen, creative waters flow. Now this little creative fountain is in us all. It is the spirit, or the intelligence, or the imagination - whatever you want to call it. If you are very tired, strained, have no solitude, run too many errands, talk to too many people, drink too many cocktails, this little fountain is muddied over and covered with a lot of debris. The result is you stop living from the center, the creative fountain, and you live from the periphery, from externals. That is, you go along on mere willpower without imagination.

It is when people really listen to us, with quiet, fascinated attention, that the little fountain begins to work again, to accelerate in the most surprising way.

I discovered all this about three years ago, and truly it made a revolutionary change in my life. Before that, when I went to a party, I would think anxiously: "Now try hard. Be lively. Say bright things. Talk. Don't let down." And when tired, I would have to drink a lot of coffee to keep this up.

Now before going to a party, I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk; to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject.

Sometimes, of course, I cannot listen as well as others. But when I have this listening power, people crowd around and their heads keep turning to me as though irresistibly pulled. By listening I have started up their creative fountain. I do them good.

Now why does it do them good? I have a kind of mystical notion about this. I think it is only by expressing all that is inside that purer and purer streams come.

It is so in writing. You are taught in school to put down on paper only the bright things. Wrong. Pour out the dull things on paper too - you can tear them up afterward - for only then do the bright ones come.

If you hold back the dull things, you are certain to hold back what is clear and beautiful and true and lively.

I think women have this listening faculty more than men. It is not the fault of men. They lose it because of their long habit of striving in business, of self-assertion. And the more forceful men are, the less they can listen as they grow older. And that is why women in general are more fun than men, more restful and inspiriting.

Now this non-listening of able men is the cause of one of the saddest things in the world - the loneliness of fathers, of those quietly sad men who move along with their grown children like remote ghosts.

When my father was over 70, he was a fiery, humorous, admirable man, a scholar, a man of great force. But he was deep in the loneliness of old age and another generation. He was so fond of me. But he could not hear me - not one word I said, really. I was just audience. I would walk around the lake with him on a beautiful afternoon and he would talk to me about Darwin and Huxley and higher criticism of the Bible.

"Yes, I see, I see," I kept saying and tried to keep my mind pinned to it, but I was restive and bored. There was a feeling of helplessness because he could not hear what I had to say about it. When I spoke I found myself shouting, as one does to a foreigner, and in a kind of despair that he could not hear me. After the walk I would feel that I had worked off my duty and I was anxious to get him settled and reading in his Morris chair, so that I could go out and have a livelier time with other people. And he would sigh and look after me absentmindedly with perplexed loneliness.

For years afterward I have thought with real suffering about my father's loneliness. Such a wonderful man, and reaching out to me and wanting to know me! But he could not. He could not listen. But now I think that if only I had known as much about listening then as I do now, I could have bridged the chasm between us. To give an example:

Recently, a man I had not seen for 20 years wrote me. He was an unusually forceful man and had made a great deal of money. But he had lost his ability to listen. He talked rapidly and told wonderful stories and it was just fascinating to hear them. But when I spoke - restlessness: "Just hand me that, will you? ... Where is my pipe?" It was just a habit. He read countless books and was eager to take in ideas, but he just could not listen to people.

Well, this is what I did. I was more patient - I did not resist his non-listening talk as I did my father's. I listened and listened to him, not once pressing against him, even in thought, with my own self-assertion.

I said to myself: "He has been under a driving pressure for years. His family has grown to resist his talk. But now, by listening, I will pull it all out of him. He must talk freely and on and on. When he has been really listened to enough, he will grow tranquil. He will begin to want to hear me."

And he did, after a few days. He began asking me questions. And presently I was saying gently:
"You see, it has become hard for you to listen."

He stopped dead and stared at me. And it was because I had listened with such complete, absorbed, uncritical sympathy, without one flaw of boredom or impatience, that he now believed and trusted me, although he did not know this.

"Now talk," he said. "Tell me about that. Tell me all about that."

Well, we walked back and forth across the lawn and I told him my ideas about it.
"You love your children, but probably don't let them in. Unless you listen, you can't know anybody. Oh, you will know facts and what is in the newspapers and all of history, perhaps, but you will not know one single person. You know, I have come to think listening is love, that's what it really is."

Well, I don't think I would have written this article if my notions had not had such an extraordinary effect on this man. For he says they have changed his whole life. He wrote me that his children at once came closer; he was astonished to see what they are; how original, independent, courageous. His wife seemed really to care about him again, and they were actually talking about all kinds of things and making each other laugh.

For just as the tragedy of parents and children is not listening, so it is of husbands and wives. If they disagree they begin to shout louder and louder - if not actually, at least inwardly - hanging fiercely and deafly onto their own ideas, instead of listening and becoming quieter and more comprehending.

But the most serious result of not listening is that worst thing in the world, boredom; for it is really the death of love. It seals people off from each other more than any other thing.

Now, how to listen. It is harder than you think. Creative listeners are those who want you to be recklessly yourself, even at your very worst, even vituperative, bad- tempered. They are laughing and just delighted with any manifestation of yourself, bad or good. For true listeners know that if you are bad-tempered it does not mean that you are always so. They don't love you just when you are nice; they love all of you.

In order to listen, here are some suggestions: Try to learn tranquility, to live in the present a part of the time every day. Sometimes say to yourself: "Now. What is happening now? This friend is talking. I am quiet. There is endless time. I hear it, every word." Then suddenly you begin to hear not only what people are saying, but also what they are trying to say, and you sense the whole truth about them. And you sense existence, not piecemeal, not this object and that, but as a translucent whole.

Then watch your self-assertiveness. And give it up. Remember, it is not enough just to will to listen to people. One must really listen. Only then does the magic begin.

We should all know this: that listening, not talking, is the gifted and great role, and the imaginative role. And the true listener is much more beloved, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective and learns more and does more good. And so try listening. Listen to your wife, your husband, your father, your mother, your children, your friends; to those who love you and those who don't, to those who bore you, to your enemies. It will work a small miracle. And perhaps a great one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chrismated Yesterday/ "Am I Expecting?"

For over a year, this is what I kept asking Orthodox Christians: "What is different?" For obviously, holiness and grace are found everywhere in many different kinds of people.

So now I've been chrismated for just under 24 hrs., and what I'm experiencing reminds me of when I registered positive for pregnancy tests oh so many years ago--I would think about the test results, and then ask myself, "Well, do I feel any different?"

I think things might in fact be subtly different, but it's easy to delude oneself in various ways, and anyhow, I just want to quit thinking about it and instead, focus on God and other people, and what's at hand, and leave that question to God so as to let Him surprise me or not as He sees fit.

"The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21) "This manner of life we have within us, that is to say, we have it within us when we desire and will it. We do not need to wait a long time, or until our departure from this life; instead, faith and a God-pleasing life which accompanies faith are very near us. " Blessed Theophylact (+c. 1108)

In terms of shock and awe (in a good way, I mean), what really astounded me was how my priest drove many miles to the service despite a newly broken arm and apparently some really awful stomach kind of flu. He was there for just that part of the service, and then went home and the other priests did the rest of the service. What a shepherd!


"Thou, Oh Christ, art the Kingdom of Heaven; Thou, Oh Christ, art the kingdom of Heaven; Thou, the land promised to the meek; Thou, the meadowland of paradise; Thou, the hall of the celestial banquet; Thou, the ineffable bridal chamber; Thou, the table set for all, Thou, the bread of life; Thou, the unheard of drink; Thou, both the urn for the water and the life-giving water; Thou, moreover, the inextinguishable lamp for each one of the saints; Thou, the garment and the crown and the One Who bestoweth the crowns; Thou, the joy and rest; Thou, the delight and glory; Thou, the gladness and mirth; And Thy grace, the grace of the Spirit of all sanctity, will shine like the sun in all the saints; And Thou, the unapproachable Sun, wilt shine in their midst; and all will shine brightly, according to the measure of their faith, their asceticism, their hope and their love, their purification, and their illumination by Thy Spirit.

A prayer by St. Symeon the New Theologian

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The Secrets of Poetry

Very long ago when the exquisite celadon bowl
that was the mikado's favorite cup got broken,
no one in Japan had the skill and courage
to mend it. So the pieces were taken back
to China with a plea to the emperor
that it be repaired. When the bowl returned,
it was held together with heavy iron staples.
The letter with it said they could not make it
more perfect. Which turned out to be true.

- Linda Gregg

In the Company of the Innumerable

"Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which you have done;
and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order;
if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered."
Psalm 40:5

"...Innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me
so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head;
therefore, my heart fails me."
Psalm 40: 12

"But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth will speak of your righteousness and your salvation all day long,
for I do not know their limits."
Psalm 71:15

"God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand."
John 3:34

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Confessing Eucharistically

I don't know about some of the theology in these passages, and much of what is written here is far beyond my grade level, so to speak, but in it, I sense some vistas of which I've been unaware, so I thought I'd share the work of this author, new to me.

I must say, it is good to be back with a more functional computer, and to begin to catch up on blog entries! (It was also good to be away from a completely functional computer!)

The Confession of the Saints by Adrienne von Speyr
from Chapter 11 of Confession, by Adrienne von Speyr

Every saint will confess in the communion of all believers in order to receive a share in it--though the saint will perhaps do so not so much in order to hear the absolution of his own sins as to come to the place where the fruit of the Cross becomes visible. He confesses in order to reveal the form of grace, to lend that fruit greater visibility, to participate, indeed to share the burden of the Cross by means of his own confession, and by means of his own confession to let the Lord's word of grace become incarnate once more in the mystery of holiness he instituted. He confesses in a great nearness to communion; he actually confesses eucharistically.

The saint gives confession a certain quality that it receives only through him, a quality so precious that one might believe the Lord had precisely this quality in mind when he instituted confession. Precisely the saint who has sinned least could make the perfect confession: the confession of his distance from God, a confession that also includes all sinners. The confession of the saints, more than any other, is ecclesial and social. It is that confession in which the other sinners participate. It is a fruit so pure that it may not be consumed by one person alone.

We can differentiate three groups of saints: those who have sinned and know from experience what sin is; those who have not sinned and do not know from genuine experience what sin is; and those who have not sinned and yet know what sin is. As representatives we can list these three: Francis, the little Thérèse, and Aloysius.

Francis has sinned. He no longer views his sins individually; he views them as a sum of offenses to God. He loves the Lord ardently, ever more ardently. He is consumed by this love. The more truly, profoundly, penetratingly he loves, the more true, profound and penetrating his sensitivity becomes to the offense that sin causes the Lord. This holds true both for his own past sins and for all the others he comes to know. Whenever he hears that something evil has happened or that others. have committed sins similar to those he once committed in the same mixture of knowledge and ignorance, whenever he sees how they prefer sin to love, he confesses, and his confession stands at the burning focal point of the offenses to the Lord; the more his love grows, the more burning this focal point becomes. It becomes the focal point of the focal point. Somehow he confesses in timelessness. The more his love consumes him, the more he senses how much more consuming it should be. In this heightening he also sees the offenses to God become heightened, and sin is subdivided for him into areas characterized by the sins he himself has committed. In one way or another he confesses distance from God, and every saint in this group does this. Although he no longer is deceitful, he loves truth too little. Although he no longer hurts his fellow human beings, he does not give them nearly as much as he could, as much as pure love wishes them to have. He confesses, as it were, a kind of reflection of his sins. Since he sees the offense to God better now, his earlier sin shows him how little his present virtue is actually fulfilled. He does not see it theoretically, but rather as a pure, pressing reality. He is the one who today has replaced his former sin with tepidity, the one who in spite of knowing better does not respond to the burning demand. Hence it seems as if he is always confessing his former sins, which appear in a continually new light the more he becomes aware of his responsibility. Precisely because he no longer is deceitful, he should possess a consuming love of truth. Every confession refines his insight and increases the feeling of his own unworthiness, but by no means drives him to despair; for he feels grace, and feels it all the more strongly the more unworthy he feels. God's mercy accepts this wretched sinner!

Little Thérèse possesses a peculiar manner of confessing, just as she has a peculiar knowledge of sin. Basically it never becomes clear to her what sin is. She learns by way of suggestion that people do things that offend God, and that those things have certain names which exhaustively define them--falsity, theft, murder, hatred, pride, self-love. But these things and their names have no essential relationship to her. Evil is for her simply the opposite of good, but this oppositional relationship remains somehow vague and abstract. Everything that is sin is somehow terrifying to her; she thinks about sin, she speaks about it, but in the way that one speaks about things which one really does not want to be explicit about. This relationship to sin is reflected clearly in her relationship to what has been called her "night". In her suffering she gets to the Mount of Olives; she also gets there with her insight, knowledge and burden of sin. Yet one really cannot know clearly and specifically what the suffering on the Mount of Olives is without knowing equally about the Cross of Golgotha. Hence Thérèse never gets beyond a kind of groping and furtive circling around sin. On the "Mount of Olives" one cannot evaluate fully just how sin offends God. Confession is a matter of Thérèse accusing herself of small and ever smaller things, but she never reaches the point at which Francis confesses. She is infinitely happy that she has not committed a mortal sin, but this knowledge inhibits her confession. It remains at the stage of preparation, just as the Mount of Olives is a preparation for the Cross. There are various beginnings, steps are made, but they never reach the end. There even occur a few excuses in the midst of her accusations. And yet she would be prepared to bear more and would be glad to be in the communion of those who confess. Here the accent on smallness can occasionally have a trivializing effect. Both her confession and her knowledge of sin lack full transparency, the light of day and realism. Saints in this group, too, could offer full confessions if the saint were seeking to be led all the way to the Cross, not by anticipating things the Lord does not give, but rather through a passivity that at the decisive moment not only passively forgets itself but also actively accepts what is revealed. Even he who has not committed sin should be familiar with it. It can be a matter of Christian courage that is not satisfied with what is vague, a courage that knows that after the "Mount of Olives", as painful as it may be, the real cross comes.

Aloysius is quite different; he is more like Catherine of Siena. He suffers from sin, and he does not withdraw from this suffering. He is able to view sin objectively and realistically. He has no share in it and is not bound to sin by sin, but he is familiar with it. He wants to know what it is, and what is unbearable for him passes over immediately into what is unbearable for the Lord. He is not bent on drawing and seeing his own boundaries or seeing to what extent he shares in it or does not. His past plays no great part. He is grateful to be allowed to do that which God expects of him right now. If he had committed a mortal sin, then he simply would have committed it; it would seem terrible to him, but he would confess and then carry on. If, on the other hand, he knew he had not committed one, perhaps he would quickly thank God, but he would not give the matter any lasting significance. He, too, confesses his distance from God, but without really concerning himself with the source of this distance. He looks closely at the Ever-More of God and his grace, and he confesses what he himself lacks. None of this is theoretical, and therein he resembles Francis. Neither does he develop any theology of the sins he sees others commit. In his opinion they are believers just as he is, even fellow religious, who do not love enough; but neither does he love enough. Hence, although he can identify their sins with certain suitable names, he is one with them in this lack of love. It is not important to him whether their lack of love occasions those specific sins, or, as in his case, hinders a more intense ardor. His contrition arises at the point where he recognizes his distance from the demands of love. Hence one cannot say that for him and those like him confession has no "content" and therefore no absolution. He senses the grace of absolution intensely, more than does little Thérèse. It gives him a new impulse for love.

The Mother of God does not feel excluded from the communion of those who confess, because she participates to the highest degree in her Son's confessional attitude. She participates in the confession of all sinners at the point where the Son as a man is completely transparent before the Father, where he lends his divine transparency to his own humanity. His Mother sees this infinite transparency, and in spite of her perfection she is always striving to attain that unattainable transparency. She strives without concerning herself with results. The essence of the confessional attitude for her is to become more like the Son. There is no absolution for her; instead, she enjoys the closest proximity to the Son as the Redeemer and purifier of all sinners, and she pours out this proximity in a eucharistic spirit.

Adrienne von Speyr was a 20th century Swiss convert, mystic, wife, doctor and author of numerous books on spirituality. She entered the Church under the direction of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Her writings, recognized as a major contribution to the great mystical writings of the Church, are being translated by Ignatius Press. Read about her life and work on her author page.

More on Questions

"The toughest questions are never on paper. They are asked and answered in flesh and blood, laughter and tears."

Douglas J. Rumford, Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks

Rumford seems to suggest that the toughest questions are not so much conceptual as incarnational, lived out in experience, relationally.


Monday, November 17, 2008

What Are the Signals?

What are the signals, I wonder, that warn you that you're asking the wrong questions...?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What Thomas Traherne Said About "Nothing":

It is an inestimable joy that I was raised out of nothing to see and enjoy this glorious world: It is a Sacred Gift whereby the children of men are made my treasures, but O Thou who art fairer than the children of men, how great and unconceivable is the joy of Thy love! That I who was lately raised out of the dust, have so great a Friend, that I who in this life am born to mean things according to the world should be called to inherit such glorious things in the way of heaven: Such a Lord, so great a Lover, such heavenly mysteries, such doings and such sufferings, with all the benefit and pleasure of them in Thy intelligible kingdom: it amazeth me, it transporteth and ravisheth me. I will leave my father's house and come unto Thee; for Thou art my Lord, and I will worship Thee, That all ages should appear so visibly before me, and all Thy ways be so lively, powerful, and present with me, that the land of Canaan should be so near; and all the joys in heaven and earth be so sweet to comfort me! This, O Lord, declareth Thy wisdom, and sheweth Thy power. But O the riches of thine infinite goodness in making my Soul an interminable Temple, out of which nothing can be, from which nothing is removed, to which nothing is afar off ; but all things immediately near, in a real, true, and lively manner. O the glory of that endless life, that can at once extend to all Eternity! Had the Cross been twenty millions of ages further, it had still been equally near, nor is it possible to remove it, for it is with all distances in my understanding, and though it be removed many thousand millions of ages more is as clearly seen and apprehended. This soul for which Thou diedst, I desire to know more perfectly, O my Saviour, that I may praise Thee for it, and believe it worthy, in its nature, to be an object of Thy love; though unworthy by reason of sin: and that I may use it in Thy service, and keep it pure to Thy glory.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Re. Wanderings of the Mind in Prayer, I Wonder:

Can they ever be a valid part of the prayer?

I have a hunch that this may be so....