Listening Carefully

1 Comment » Written on March 26th, 2014     
Filed under: reflections
I spent the last three days attending our annual mission spring retreat. We met in the mountain town of Karuizawa and spent the better part of three days focusing on hearing God. A good deal of that time was spent listening to our guest speaker, Rick Mylander but we also spent significant time listening to scripture, listening to ourselves and one another as we sang praises to God, listening to each other in conversation over meals or on walks in the surrounding mountains, and listening to the many tones of God’s voice in our midst.


On Tuesday morning I got up early and drove up to a favorite lookout point with a couple cameras in tow. I got there in time to set up a tripod, select and load some film, choose a lens and wait. Of course, waiting for the sun to rise is more of a visual event than an aural event. Nevertheless, as the orange glow on the eastern horizon intensified and eventually gave way to the fiery rays of the morning sun I immediately was able to hear the sunrise. In perfect harmony with the rising sun, a chorus of birds sang the mountainside from night’s darkness into daylight. Visually it wasn’t what I would consider a spectacular sunrise, but perhaps that’s why I was able to take note of the sounds of the rising sun. Unfortunately my photos only capture the visual aspect but the voice of nature, and indirectly, the voice of the creator were fully audible in that moment.

On Tuesday afternoon several of us went up to the surreal lava beds of Mt. Asama. Jagged black rock formations fill the landscape and fuel the imagination, punctuated by the backdrop of an immense, smoke spewing mountain. A temple sits at the high point of the loop trail thru the lava beds and there stands a beautiful bell. A couple of folks in our group took the pleasure of ringing the bell and the sound was captivating, as it continued to reverberate for what seemed like a full minute or two. Our guests from the U.S. asked about the significance of the bell and while making comparisons to European church bells we concluded that the primary difference was that church bells were usually used to summon the people and perhaps give praise to God while temple bells were more about summoning the Gods and entreating them to listen. The irony of the contrast between trying to get a deity to listen, and our theme of listening to the divine seemed to continue reverberating in my mind as did the bell in our ears. 



Now we’ve all left the retreat center and as I caught up on some news this evening I read of people painstakingly combing the Indian Ocean  carefully looking for debris and intently listening for the pings that will soon fade.

In rural Washington, not far from my parents’ home town, rescue workers tell heartbreaking accounts of hearing the cries for help from beneath the landslide debris.

In either case I’m reminded that listening and hearing can be a painful, even devastating experience. Yesterday we read the account of Saul hearing the voice of Jesus on the road to Damascus. It doesn’t get much more painful or devastating than that! And yet thru an act of redemption Saul/Paul was used by God so countless others would hear the good news.

Open my ears Lord, that I might hear. Shape my heart Lord that what I hear might find a home. Embolden my hands, my feet and my lips Lord, that I might bear faithful testimony to what you have said and done. Amen



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One Response to “Listening Carefully”

Always moved by your writing, Jim. Listening and hearing. Why is it that when we are talking we are not listening, but when we are singing, listening is the main thing? As a singer, that is my job: to listen and blend.

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