"When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time."
~Rachel Naomi Remen
~Rachel Naomi Remen
One of the crashing waves of Sunday was the accusation that I don't listen. Huh. My memory might not be worth much these days, and retention of what I hear is an issue, but if I am anything I am a good listener. It's been one of my middle names for a long time. I suspect that what the accuser had in mind was that his argument wasn't persuasive and I didn't yield the ground of my opinion. Another day in the life of each and every one of us!
This quote today, again from Gratefulness.org, got me to thinking, however. My silence on Sunday was not an option--we were in a meeting. But had there been an opportunity for me to remain silence so that the individual could rant on, I wonder if the space of generous listening would have led him to a truth he might not otherwise hear.
It has been my experience that in the presence of a good listener (a number of people come to mind, but my mother is one such individual), Rachel Remen's words are true. Frederick Beuchner notes somewhere or other that the process of writing is, for him, like opening a vein where the inner voice flows onto the page and takes the shape of words. Speaking in the presence of a generous listener can flow likewise.
I know this to be true in the conversations I have with God, particularly confessional ones. The generous silence of the divine opens a space into which I pour my fears, my regrets, my apologies and my yearnings, and the mess that spills out of me, through the course of conversation, takes on a kind of order. In the space of divine conversation God's response is to rearrange what I have shared in such a way that it appears different to me. Sometimes something has been removed, sometimes something is added. A particularly ugly offering might have its ragged edges trimmed. In the end, what God gives back to me from the generosity of his silence is a form of healing wrapped in grace.
I try, as a listener, to be as generous as the divine model I have experienced. If that doesn't work for some people, I guess I'll just have to keep on trying.