Douglas V. Steere wrote a book On Listening To Another, and in the introduction he penned the following: “In the Journal of John Woolman, there is a well-known scene which took place in an Indian village along the upper Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. John Woolman rose to pray in a religious meeting held among the Indians and an interpreter who stood up to render Woolman’s words into the Indian language was asked to sit down and let the prayer go untranslated. After the meeting, the Indian chief, Papunehang approached Woolman and through an interpreter said of the prayer whose English words he had not understood, ‘I love to feel where words come from.’”
I first read Steere’s book in 1969 and have read it many times since. Yet, I still find it a difficult task to listen. It is a gift to “feel where words come from.” I think we all have this gift within us—the gift to listen—but we seldom exercise it. We are so caught up in our own words, our own story, our own feelings, that we can scarcely hear the words, the story, and the feelings of another. Someone has written that we cannot listen well because we have never had anyone listen to us.
Years ago, I went to my bishop with a concern. I was awed by his position and his authority. When I walked into his office, I was nervous and apprehensive. I wondered if I would ever be able to speak to him. He moved from his desk to an easy chair and asked me what was on my mind. I began to tell him why I had come, and as I began, he bent forward and listened to my feeble attempt to express myself with patient attentiveness and concern. He never uttered a single word, never asked a question, never interrupted, giving me space to say what I needed to say, and within minutes I suddenly stopped talking. I no longer needed to talk. I knew he heard me. He had already felt my words, understood my concern, and the meeting turned into something much deeper and significant than the small concern with which it began. We touched holy ground. This is what happens when someone really listens to us—we suddenly find ourselves on holy ground.
It is no easy task to listen. It requires conscious thought and discipline and for that reason it is a rare thing in our world today. If I cannot listen to my friend, how can I possibly listen and hear the “still small voice” addressing me from within?
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