The Power of Silence — The importance of developing a listening heart

I just read a The Power of Silence — Against the Dictatorship of Noise, by Robert Sarah, a Guinean Cardinal in the Catholic Church.

In a world where there is almost no silence, Cardinal Sarah argues that silence is the indispensable doorway to the divine.   To give you a tiny smattering of his style:

“The silence of everyday life is an indispensable condition for living with others.  Without the capacity for silence, man is incapable of hearing, loving and understanding the people around him.  Charity is born of silence.  It proceeds from a silent heart that is able to hear, to listen, and to welcome.”

Having counseled scores of pastors and Christian leaders in the last year, I have come to realize that many Christian leaders spend little time in silence, truly waiting on the Lord, me included.

Sarah says, “What is extraordinary is always silent. … A tree grows in silence, and springs of water flow at first in the silence of the ground.  The sun that rises over the earth in its splendor and grandeur warms us in silence. What is extraordinary is always silent.”

And indeed, “In his mother’s womb, an infant grows in silence.  When a newborn is sleeping in his crib, his parents love to gaze at him in silence, so as not to awaken him.”

This gazing can only be contemplated in silence, Sarah says, and “in wonder at the mystery of man in his original purity.”

As I read, I kept thinking that while silence may be the absence of speech, it is above all the attitude of someone who listens.  Cardinal Sarah says it like this: “To listen is to welcome the other into one’s heart.”

That got me thinking about King Solomon, once called the wisest men in the world. Because of his faithfulness to God, God meets him in a dream and tells him that because of his faithfulness, Solomon can ask for whatever he wants.  Solomon is so giddy he immediately asks God to give him the largest lottery purse in the history of the world –before Solomon was born, or ever in all of human history!  No, of course he doesn’t ask that. Thankfully, Solomon is duly humbled and most of us know his well-known answer:

“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (I Kings 3)

I started looking at different translations of Solomon’s answer and discovered the New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE] (linked above to I Kings 3). The NABRE is one of the official translations approved by the Catholic Church.

The NABRE renders I Kings 3:9:

Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”

I love that — Give your servant a listening heart.  Have you ever thought of asking God for a listening heart?  You’ve probably had a troubled heart or a racing heart, or even an evil heart, if you are honest. The Prophet Jeremiah does say, “The heart is evil above all things, and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9)

But think about asking God for a listening heart.  What would that even mean for you?  I can only begin to imagine the implications.  Still, I have been asking God to give me a heart that listens — to God, to nature, to my own thoughts and to others.

In a world that utterly is drunk with images, music and Utube music and how-to videos and millions of noisy slogans — which can kill the inner man — I am hoping that Christ followers increasingly will develop a listening heart where their eyes will be opened to see silence and harmony coalesce under God’s watchful eye. Only then will God’s people regain the calm and dignity that are hallmarks of life in God’s Kingdom.

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