Fr Jim Cogley
The first reading from the OT today relates to how the boy Samuel first experienced his call to be a prophet. A group when asked what a prophet was and were of the opinion that it was someone who could foretell the future. There may be an element of truth in that but fundamentally a prophet is someone who listens to God and then is able to speak Gods truth into the situation of the time. They often got stoned and put to death for their trouble because before the truth sets us free it usually sickens us and the tendency has always been to shoot the messenger before hearing the message.
Saul was the first prophet in Israel and Samuel was the second. His mother Hannah was unable to have children and the Lord granted her prayer of anguish. When her son was born she was so grateful that she dedicated him to the Lord. This meant that the boy spent much of his young life in the Temple and that is where we meet him in that first reading. The times seemed to be similar to our own. People thought miracles were a thing of the past and it was rare for the Lord to speak in those days. While the lamp of faith had grown dim it had not entirely gone out.
Twice the Lord called Samuel and each time he thought it was the old priest Eli who was calling. The third time Eli realized that the Lord was calling this young man and he advised him to say, ‘Speak Lord your servant is listening’. From there on we are told that the Lord was with Samuel and he let no word of his fall to the ground.
So that story is really about the prophet learning to listen and this is where most of us have a lot to learn. Experience teaches us that in general people hear but don’t listen. Take a group situation where visitors get off a bus and are told to be back for 3.45pm. The number who will ask what time did you say is amazing and some will saunter back at four convinced that 4pm was what you said.
The piece of sculpture shown is a very obvious symbol of listening. It’s an ear, but the inside looks like a baby in the womb, and this is to symbolize the truth, that when we listen something new is born
For most of us our hearing is okay but good listeners are very hard to find. People who are troubled or bereaved often say that they find it very difficult to find anyone who can truly listen to their story without interrupting or switching off.
Some years ago I remember a man telling a horrendous story of his daughter being killed and just a few seats away was a woman who was leafing through a booklet as he spoke. How many times have we seen similar incidents where a group are gathered and while one person is speaking about something important another is trying to interrupt and another seems more interested in making tea. It used to be quite common in Church years ago to be reading the Word of God and out of the corner of the eye to see someone holding their beads and saying the rosary. Talk about not listening to the Word of God. That’s a classic case of, not ‘Speak Lord you servant is listening,’ but, ‘Listen Lord your servant is speaking.’ These are things we do without thinking and a little thought would not go amiss. While it is not my intention to offend anyone it is my hope to heighten awareness to the fact that we all can become better listeners both to the Lord and to one another.
It’s feels like an insult to be trying to pour out your heart to someone and a minute later to realize that you are now listening to their story. We all know what that’s like. ‘Well now isn’t that interesting let me tell you what happened to me’……Either that or they are trying to give you good advice in order to fix you while the reality is that good advice is bad news for someone who needs a listening ear. When we really listen without interrupting we help someone sort themselves out, and that’s why when we listen something new is born, symbolized by the child in the ear.
Someone pointed out an interesting fact recently that while we hear with our ears we listen with our eyes and our hearts. We know someone is listening when their eyes stay with us while when they switch off the eyes wander.
So to truly listen is a wonderful form of service and to summarize:
When someone is talking or telling their story the first rule is silence. Don’t feel you need to have an answer running in your head or interrupt with yours.
Second, don’t try to fix them by offering advice. There will be time for discussion after they are finished.
Third, hold eye contact and listen with your heart. When someone is hurting only when they feel heard do they begin to mend.
Finally being a good listener is a great gift to someone in trouble but for most of us it doesn’t come naturally and it usually has to be practiced.