The Art of Listening

When a friend of mine traveled to an African country where he didn’t speak the language, he told me that he came away with the impression that we rely too much on words for communication, and that words perhaps aren’t as necessary as we think they are.

In college, I learned terms like ‘active listening,’ which describe what it means to really listen to a person. I think we, as Christians, don’t listen well enough. For if we did, we would spend most of our time listening, then saying just a few words that actually are relevant to that person’s life. That’s what relevancy really is: connecting with a person’s needs and desires. Guess what? You can’t do that without taking the time to listen. And if you begin by talking at or preaching at a person, telling a person you don’t know and are not committed to, what they need to do in their life, chances are they won’t let down their guard and trust you enough to share their needs and desires. Maybe their heart will become apparent by what they say, or maybe by what they don’t say, but if you don’t slow down enough to be present, and, well, listen, you won’t hear. Why should they listen if you care to listen to them?

The artist who is a Christian, like any other Christian, is required to be in this world, but not of it. We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants. In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars. We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing. And during the writing of the story, or the painting, or the composing or singing or playing, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children. We cannot be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe which we had as children. An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith. (L’Engle)

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water. New York: North Point Press. 1995.