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On listening – silence in the monastery

The Rule of St. Benedict opens with the word listen. A monk should be above all a listener, so indeed should every Christian.

But who, or what, are we to listen to? The Rule says it is to the master and our primary and ultimate master is God.

The whole spiritual life of the Christian is a process of listening to God, inclining the ear of the heart.

This image of the inward ear, the ear of the heart, shows us that our listening is not merely an intellectual or rational activity.

It is intuitive, springing from the very core of our being, where we are most open to God, most receptive to the word he speaks.

We have to be quiet and still within ourselves, alert and attentive, if that word is to resonate properly in our innermost depths, so that we are fully illumined and nourished by it.

This idea is not an invention of St. Benedict. It came to him out of the Jewish and Christian tradition. 

“Hear, O Israel,” says God to the Chosen People when he is giving them the Law; and Jesus cried out, “Listen, you who have ears to hear!”

Jesus himself was the greatest of all listeners; everything he said and did was in response to what he had heard from his Father. 

We think first and foremost of Jesus as the great speaker, the Lion of Judah, whose word shakes the earth, tames the elements, drives out evil spirits and heals the sick. What we overlook is that all this awesome power of Jesus has its origins in silence.

In St. Luke’s gospel, we learn of the long periods of solitary prayer, which Jesus spent on hilltops, often during the hours of darkness. What did this prayer consist of?

Since he told his disciples not to pour out a torrent of words when praying, we can be sure he took his own advice and avoided talking more than he had to.

So his prayer consisted mainly of listening—silent, relaxed and attentive.

Jesus’ obedience to the Father meant that his ear was totally and continually open to the Father’s promptings, communicated to him by the Spirit in the depths of his heart.

This is why Jesus’ words and deeds had such tremendous power; they were not his own, but came from the one who had sent him.

In this he is our model. Furthermore, we can be sure of being actually able to do it.

We received the Spirit of Jesus at our baptism; his life is now our life; his wisdom and power are ours to draw on.

At the Last Supper he went so far as to say that there is nothing he did which we also will not be able to do (John 14:12).

Why not take that seriously? Why not see for ourselves what happens when we try to do what he did?



Published by Ampleforth Abbey Press With permission:
ACTS Hong Kong