Listen feature
UU Church Today, Practice & Voice

Listen and give a chance to be heard

“Listen!” Jesus said. “The sower went out to sow.”
This is the way the Parable of the Sower begins, with listening. The next parable tells us, “Pay attention to what you hear.” He emphasizes the point.
“Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

The difference between listening and hearing

There is a real difference between hearing and listening. I once knew a deaf boy who wrote a note to a girl he met that said, “I can’t listen.” I had to explain to him in sign language that “listen” means “pay attention while you are hearing.” He didn’t have any problem paying attention, at least not to girls.

I thought my own teenage son had a hearing problem. I took him to the audiologist, but the test showed he had perfect hearing. He had a listening problem, not a hearing problem. It isn’t that he couldn’t hear, it’s that he wouldn’t listen. I was hoping to cure his problem—or maybe it was my problem— with a hearing aid. Instead what he needed was a thinking cap, and I didn’t know where to get one of those.

My other son thought I was the one with the listening problem. After we’d have an altercation, he would often say, “You wouldn’t listen.” I think that’s true. I would talk and talk but I wouldn’t listen. I had to be the voice of authority. I didn’t acknowledge that he had something to say. He talked me into going to a counselor with him. There he opened up and told me things I wouldn’t listen to before.  He knew I would have to listen with the counselor running interference for him. That gave him the opportunity to be heard.

I’m a lawyer. We had a young man in our office whose girlfriend had run off with their baby. He had a lot to say. My boss got tired of his stories and had me talk to him. When we were finished, the client said, “Thank you for listening.” That brought home to me how important it is to listen. How important it is to have someone who will take the time just to hear you out. Too often in our society we don’t take time to listen.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others

I’m reminded of a story. A Jesuit and a Dominican were debating whether it was permitted to smoke and pray at the same time. Each went to ask his own superior. When they came back, the Dominican said solemnly, “It is not permitted.” The Jesuit was shocked. “What did you ask?” he demanded. “I asked if it was permitted to smoke while praying,” he responded. “Well, no wonder!” the Jesuit exclaimed. “I asked if was permitted to pray while smoking.” So, it’s important how you ask the question. And it’s important to listen to the question which is asked and not change it to something we have a ready answer for.

We Unitarians believe in continuing revelation. It can come from any source. No book is true because it’s holy, but holy only insofar as it is true. We can read a lesson from any source: Christian scripture, Jewish scripture, Muslim scripture, Hindu scripture, beatnik poetry, self-help literature, Peanuts. Anything that we can learn from. “To the wise, nothing is foolish,” Sophocles said.

“Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story.” You may have heard that. It’s from Desiderata by Max Ehrman. And it’s very true. Every person is a prophet. Everyone has something to say. If only we would listen.

Sid Martin is a valuable member of All Souls’ and a regular contributor to Read more from Sid about the Welcoming foundation of All Souls in The Meaning of Love Beyond Belief.

Listening as an act of love that makes way for the deepest truth. Listen and watch former resident minister, David Ruffin’s sermon Are You Listening? on our Youtube Channel.


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