When I was growing up and I thought I might get into trouble when my father had something to talk with me about, or to ask me about, I would try to control the conversation by steering it in the direction I wanted it to go. I would talk and talk, often at a very fast pace, in hopes he would either forget what it was he wanted to talk or find about, or give up. It never worked. He would break into my stream of words when I would finally breathe, and say what he wanted to say or ask. Generally I would just stare at him while he made his point, all the while trying to think what I might say next to get off the topic. “Did you hear me, Van?” Dad would ask. I’d say, “Yes, sir.” He would look at me with doubtful eyes, and with a sigh answer, “I know you heard me, but did you listen?”
I have become painfully aware that I still talk too much and listen too little. I have found this to be especially true during prayer and meditation. I always seem to have a number of petitions and favors to ask of God, and a myriad of things about which to apologize and ask forgiveness, and of course physical things and circumstances that I complain about or want to bring to God’s attention that need fixing - and it all keeps me praying a respectable amount of time. Yet, It occurs to me that I spend most of my time talking “at” God, rather than “with” God. I ask a lot, but do not wait to hear God’s response — or to discern it.
I am not only this way with God, but with my sisters and brothers here on earth, let alone the angels, archangels, and all those God sends from His closer presence to get a word in edgeways. To make my point I will confess to you dear reader, I have been horrified to have noticed at times that I am thinking what I can say next, before another has even completed their point in a conversation; a point I have not heard, nor cared enough to listen to, for wanting to get started into my next monologue … Sometimes prayer can be a very similar experience. I seem afraid of silence.
Truth be told, I think I am afraid of the response I’ll get from God, so I don’t leave room for God, or others, to put me in a position that would make me uncomfortable — or like Job, shut me up. I am afraid that the answer will not agree with me, or be what I want to hear. A true relationship, like a true conversation, calls for us to listen. To take time out from our expulsion of noise and words, and to listen, and not just hear. God calls us into just such a relationship with Him, He wants us to engage with Him, to not just talk at Him, but to listen.
“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him’!” [Matthew 17:5].
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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