I never take the gift of being able to hear for granted. To be able to listen is a very treasured thing.
I love the twitter of birdsong, particularly of the Blackbird heralding the dawn of a new day and closing it down with its ornithological compline. The sound of rustling leaves on the trees, a river babbling, of waves lapping on the shoreline and bees buzzing. The sounds of nature are enlivening and relaxing. I love the shouts and squeals of children playing happily, or of laughter among family and friends. The chime of a church bell, rousing songs and beautiful music.
Listening is a gift. I remember watching the news report of a woman here in the north-east who, after 40 years, was able to hear for the first time in her life. Receiving a cochlear implant, it was an overwhelming experience It must have been an incredible experience for her. She spoke about hearing simple things for the first time, from the flick of a light switch to running water. She has spent subsequent years building a ‘sound library’ in her brain. The gift of being able to hear.
Being able to listen to hear, brings many blessings but also alerts us to those things that are disturbing. Watching scenes of devastation like the impact of Global warming which becomes increasingly evident with forest fires raging, the oceans getting warmer, sea levels rising, glaciers retreating, ice flows shrinking and in every continent extreme weather conditions are increasing in frequency.
To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the earth is not only burning but screaming! As President Macron of France said, “By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let us face it, there is no planet B.
If we heard a person crying out for help, I’d hope that we might all respond positively, but when it comes to the environment we are often deaf to its cries and continue to neglect and abuse, or worse still be climate change deniers.
Listening is not only a gift but an important component to human life in society.
Current industrial disputes here in the UK are exacerbated by entrenched attitudes and policies, stances and prejudices from individuals and bodies that refuse to listen, refuse to sit round a table and hear the different, opposing, conflicted voices.
Reflecting on the remarkable achievements of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, the contribution that John Major, (then prime Minister) and Albert Reynolds, (the Irish Taoiseach) made in the early stages, cannot be underestimated. They had met several times when they were Finance Ministers in the European Parliament, (sadly, the UK is no longer part of that significant body, where such relationships are formed). Both subsequently became the heads of Government in their own countries and realised that there would be no end to the conflict in Northern Ireland without talking. Talking to your political opponents, talking to your enemies. And listening. In paying tribute to Reynolds who died in 2014, John Major recalled that they, “had the fiercest rows without leaving any scars”. What a testimony to the willingness to continue talking and listening for the common good.
Listening removes barriers, opens doors, creates connections that can be life-giving. Listening paves the way for possibilities that would be impossible if we turned a deaf ear and refused to listen.
There were three of us waiting at the tyre services centre this morning. One, oblivious to anything that was happening around them, headphones on, eyes glued only to the screen on their mobile phone. For the young woman whose car was first to be worked on came that very British thing of observing how lovely the weather was. Simply passing the time of day, but the wait was long and made easy because extended conversation flowed easily. I learned something of the life of an RAF airwoman, whose 20 working years had seen her serving in many parts of the world, with experiences that have shaped her life as an individual and as mum of two small children. We were just passing the time of day but the conversation was mutually enriching and I was heartened to hear of her positive experience of chaplains in the RAF. I asked her what she valued most about the chaplains that she’d known and without hesitation she said it was their willingness to listen, to be there when you need to talk to somebody, to know that they had your best interests at heart. What a commendation for which there will be no medals, but some invaluable testimonials to the gift of listening.
Whether we are listening to the natural world around us, to others, to God or to ourselves, let’s listen well and in so doing we might learn to think deeply.