To Speak and To Listen

“Listen, and I will tell you a mystery…”
                                                                (I Corinthians 15:51)

When I was in the fifth grade, our teacher instructed the class on the practice of effective listening.  “Watch the person’s lips,” she admonished, “Don’t watch her face.  Watch her lips.”

Listen to Lips

I remember a time in my late teens when I was trying to listen to God.  How are you supposed to do that?  God doesn’t have lips to watch.  And without lips to watch, I heard a cacophony of voices in my head giving directions, offering advice, and issuing threats.  The voices tumbled over one another in an endless cycle as if my mind were a dryer with a glass door.  I was listening, but not to God.  The tumbling voices were attached to all the people who had praised me and loved me, who had scared me and hurt me, who had cajoled me and manipulated me, who had taught me and challenged me.  People had lips; God didn’t.

In the passing years, I realized that the tumbling voices came from a gift; I am a good listener.  Listening well means more than watching lips.  Listening well is hearing tone and sensing emotion.  Listening well is to pull back the Self in order to create as much space as possible for the Other to speak, to play, to emerge, to soar, to spill, to spew.  To listen is to pay attention to the hands and the shoulders, trace the arc of the eyes, hear the pattern of verbs, and to follow the billowy, lacy, delicate web of thought, gossamer thin and light, sheer, yet, defining.

Soon, if you are listening, you begin to see the delicate web is everywhere.  I saw it all; all of us like Charlotte’s babies spinning our silk and ballooning from one place to another.  And I began to wonder if spinning my silk to the breeze was a betrayal of the gift of listening I had been given.  All those years of listening, observing, making room for the Other to speak, became obstacles to listening for a God with no lips, obstacles to listening to my True Self.  When I tried to listen for God, I heard everyone else. When I yearned for my own voice, I could not discern my whisper among the tumbling voices; the voice of my True Self was as hard to find as a lost sock.

Wondering, I asked, “What if I listened to myself with as much attentiveness and gentleness and interest as I had listened to others?”  As I became a better listener, I learned that listening well means that I must not forget that I am the one who listens.  To hear the tone and sense the emotion, I use my faculties and my intuition.  To pull back the Self is not to say the Self can or should disappear.  To pay attention to hands and shoulders, I watch with my eyes; to trace the arc of your eyes, I use my vision.

I listen; but when I listen well, I also speak.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

A Burning Me

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him,  “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts.  What else can I do?  Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven.  His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Joseph of Panephysis 7, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:  The Alphabetical   Collection

I have spent years waiting for the next burning bush.  I say “next” because one would never suffice.  What job do I take?  Which decision do I make?  What next?

I read the words of Abba Joseph, and I wonder if I am the “next” burning bush.  Can I burn and not be consumed?

Burning Bush Luminaries for Shavuot DIY Tutorial

I wonder if Abba Joseph and Moses were only encountering God from two different perspectives, the transcendence and immanence of God, the God beyond and the God within.  Perhaps, this is what Moses later discovered when he began to burn with a bright light after meeting with God.

A burning me… on fire and yet not consumed.  Maybe, beyond doing the right thing, I would become the “right” thing.

Companions: Voices in my Head, Books by my Bed

Everyone needs companions in life.  Some of mine live with me.  Some are a phone call and a country away.  Some have died and still speak to me in dreams, through old letters, and archived emails.  And some of my companions are only such because I read what they write and add their voices to my inner conversations.  Here are a few of those companions who speak to me.

Daily reflections:

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations

Henri Nouwen Society
Henri Nouwen’s Daily Reflections as written in his book Bread for the Journey.

Daily meditations from the Irish Jesuits that I read in book form, but the meditations are also accessible online.
The book is Sacred Space:  The Prayer Book 2013
The website is

Books by my Bed:

The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort and Spiritual Transformation

The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort and Spiritual Transformation by Kathleen Dowling Singh

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault

 A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman, Edward W. Beal (Editor), Margaret M. Treadwell(Editor)

Primary Speech

Primary Speech by Ann Ulanov, Barry Ulanov

To Pray and to Love

To Pray and to Love by Roberta C. Bondi

For a more extensive list of authors and books who have been companions and conversation partners, here is a link to my favorites on Goodreads:

Favorites Bookshelf

Who are your companions?