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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lost Art of Listening

So, on Facebook a priest posted a photo from an Orthodox parish with a 'life-size' cardboard cutout (perhaps plywood, but you get the imagery) of Christ surrounded by altarboys holding candles.  He asked the question as to what the rest of us knew about this.  I had no idea, but I do have my hunches.

My response was this:

This is just my 2¢, but our churches are becoming a lot more 'visual' to compensate for a couple of factors. First, since people can't understand the languages of services, we seek to 'entertain' them with visuals. Second, as we are in an age with HD video, TV, computers, we are far more visually oriented, which tempts us to make services more about seeing than listening. We put more lights, demand bigger Holy Doors to 'see' the clergy (mostly doing nothing), etc. This is part of that general phenomenon. I think it is a distraction from listening, but when you can't understand the service, then there really is nothing else to do but watch the standing about.

Orthodox worship is indeed visual, but we are seeing a loss of listening as a more important feature in worship.  We don't hear much of what is going on around us anymore.  We are too busy watching.

Vision is complex, and involves 30 separate regions in the brain in order to get a complete 'picture.'  But, it is largely a sensual process.  Listening is not as demanding in many ways, yet I would say it is far more complex and nuanced than vision. 

Understanding language involves a layer of paying attention that can be exhausting in the way that, let's say, watching a silent film is not.  language is far more abstract.

Our modern technology and the rush of information means we often rely more on visual cues than listening.  We don't have time to listen.  A picture presents itself all at once, so it can be scanned in a moment.  Sound happens in time... and we have so little of that.

While you can spend as much or as little times as you want with seeing a picture, listening requires being in the moment through the duration of the sound.  If you can't stay there in that time, you will miss everything.

We have gotten to the point that we not only don't listen to others, I think sometimes we are not even listening to ourselves.  An example: a priest contacted me about something I wrote and said I was in big trouble with this other priest, who was threatening to get a bishop involved if it wasn't taken down.  So, I contacted the other priest and asked that, if he was going to do that, if he would extend the courtesy of letting me know before hand so I could prepare by family.

The response was, in short, 'I didn't say anything like that.'  Now, one of them, or perhaps both, were not listening.  Perhaps the threat was not intended to be a threat, or the fellow who heard the advice decided to hear it as a threat.  All I know is that I wouldn't put it past anyone to mess up listening these days.  We do so little of it.

Anyway, I have been threatened plenty of times before.  Eventually someone will act on a threat, but so far I have walked the line and avoided giving people real things to follow through on their threats with.  Perhaps someday I will.  Only God knows.  Some people don't even need facts to act upon.  Their desires are sufficient reason for them.

Recovery requires a lot of listening.  A sponsor and a sponsee, or priest and a parishioner, can't just send each other emails (though there is no shortage of attempts these days, if my inbox is at all reputable).  We need to listen and pay attention.

This requires time and focus that our modern lives often deny us.  We don't spend time with each other, which is why we are lonely.  A keyboard and a bottle of chardonnay are no replacement for real human contact.

I saw this picture (I believe the artist is Banksy), and I think it summarizes our real problem:

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