Good listening

Pastoral Messages | July 28, 2020

O Lord, hear my prayer. When I call, answer me. Come and listen to me.

Zoom fatigue is real. Yet, for now, Zoom and similar video conferencing platforms also have their benefits. Of course, there’s the elimination of health risk. But there’s more. A handful of people have commented to me in the past week that, given the choice between being indoors with masks, and being on Zoom, for certain conversations they would pick Zoom. The reason all of them give is that it is so much easier not just to hear the words of others in conversation, but to read others’ faces, and form a meaningful connection. Many have also noticed the difference in conversation dynamics that occurs on Zoom. What you lose in spontaneity and playfulness, you can sometimes gain in creating a space geared more toward listening than speaking. Since you can’t go around in a “circle,” often one person invites another to speak, who then invites another, until everyone has been invited. You can level the playing field: the leader need not talk between every person. Is this as good as being together in person without masks? Surely not. But with the right parameters it might make us better listeners.

In my seminary class on Pastoral Care, the main textbook was The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols. Right away in the book, Dr. Nichols shares how he collected experiences on the theme “it hurts not to be listened to.” A psychiatrist friend shares with him a story of an unanswered voicemail, and the anxiety the lack of response created. Dr. Nichols is particularly surprised by the story’s ending: “My friend was talking about me!” It was him whom his friend had called, and never heard back from.

The words above from a popular Taizé hymn (adapted from Psalm 143) bear witness to the simple but profound reality that God listens. As Dr. Nichols writes, “the essence of good listening is empathy, which can only be achieved by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person. Part intuition and part effort, it’s the stuff of human connection.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear this enough. Listening isn’t just kind, nor is it merely a needed step in solving a problem, yours or mine. More than either of these, good listening is how connection happens.

-Hayden Kvamme, pastor in residency

2 Comments on “Good listening”

  • Lynn Robinson

    July 31, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic, so needed especially in these times. Listening is an act of hospitality, opening ourselves to another’s inner world.

  • Sheila Mesick

    July 30, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    The quote from Dr. Nichol’s touches my heart. Since March 17th I have avoided social interactions. With the recent high humidity going outside was even curtailed. A phone call can be the only social interaction people may experience. Taking the time to call friends and loved ones is important. With the threat of Covid 19 preventing travel and visits, hearing the voice of friends and loved ones is essential.

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