February 11, 2012
Listening – Stephen T. Berg
Some of the gulls launch themselves. These, moving above the trees, find a current and now the air becomes still beside them as they ride. They glide with grace; follow a silent score; invent as they go.
Within the leaden racket of my culture, having been candle-dipped in noise, I too am comfortable with distraction and petty spitting contests. And I hardly notice my adoption of slogans and my own bilious secretions—my cranky adjuvant for the crowd.
But should I find a way to remove myself and let things fall silent, I will enter an inscape, a dark vacuum.
At first, the break from stimuli and the cessation of group-think brings a low-grade panic. And so—as when I was a child cautiously climbing the stairs out of a dark basement, knowing that if I broke into a run something would grab my ankle through the rungs—I move with deliberation to turn something on, to thumb a glossy page, to plug in, to avoid the void.
But the Benedictine vow of listening asks me to simply listen, and listen simply. Now, should I have it in me to listen like this—with my heart’s ear—I may yet feel a breeze of deliverance, a buoyancy, a moment of rising above the grey wall of cultural clapperclaw.
And here, one may hear the deep transcendence a single note—“come and see”—of catching an updraft and gliding in harmony with other notes.
I wrote the above meditation a few years ago, some time after I became a Benedictine Oblate.
Listening has always been hard for me, whether in prayer or (staying) in the present; and the daily discipline of this vow, Auscultare, or listening with the ear of the heart, was something of a necessary God-send.
I have an idea that for we writers, listening is job-one—long before the appearance of that first word. When I sense myself running out of ideas, when I feel my prose is purple and my poetry stale, I know I haven’t been listening.