Monday, August 02, 2010


“A pair of good ears will drain dry a hundred tongues. Give us grace to listen well.” (John Keble, 1792 – 1866 Poet, leader of the Oxford Movement)

That’s a funny word, “listen.” We don’t say it like it’s spelled (we live by the exception of the rule) and it begins to make a strange sound in our own ears if we say it enough times. I wonder if Charles Stanley can hear how often he uses the word in a half hour? Regardless, I know why he uses it so much.

We get our word from the Old English, “hlysnan,” from the old High German, “khlusinon” or “hlosen” and “lauschen” (which is a far cry from the Sanskrit, “srnoti”). A deeper etymological study reveals a deep meaning we take for granted; in other words, “listen” means more than “hear.” The word includes the idea of listing, giving fame to or making famous, ascribing splendor and honor to, glory. The implication is that when we listen, we focus to the point of exalting the object of undivided attention.

So what?

Journalist and author Gay Talese described a bar tended by a young woman, who seemed very much out of place in a slum dive such as this. Truth be told, she was a sociology student who got a job at this specific bar so she could study people as she worked (she could have worked someplace else, but considering her field of study, this was an ideal setting). “A few of them said they knew of other jobs for me that weren’t so ‘low class’ . . . they wanted to rescue me—they who could barely help themselves.” Why did the people come to drink? They could have done any of a hundred thousand other things if they merely wanted to pass the time, so why come here, to the bar? They could have spent less money on a bottle at the liquor store if they wanted to be alone. They go to the bar because there, someone will listen.

Near my house there are two convenience stores and a gas station where daily one can see men and women standing outside all hours of the day, and many are passing the bottle. Look past the dirt, and ignore the smell for a moment and watch them—they are talking, and listening. They are a community of people who want to be heard, so they go to where someone will listen.

Listening calls for a response, action. Listening is a journey with someone else. Sure, you can hold hands, but when one walks by listening, one connects in a much more intimate way.

“When you talk, you repeat what you already know; when. you listen, you often learn something.” (Jaren Sparks, 1789-1866, the President of Harvard University from 1849 to 1853.)
Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, listening.

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