February 11, 2012

Listening – Stephen T. Berg

It’s June, and I’m sleeping at a roadside campground along the Yellowhead highway in Alberta. I awake to a small invasion of seagulls. The birds squawk—a discordant and dumbfounded lot—they spit and squabble over scraps that fall from car windows.

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.



  1. Amen, Brother! "Be still and Know that I am God" There is a world in stillness, another world in "know" and more than all in God. In Christ it is our inheritance, should we claim it, to enter into the sweet fellowship of the Father, The Spirit and The Son. This is something the enemy wants to keep from us.

  2. Thank you Charles.

  3. Stephen, I've been catching up on my blog reads. I am SO glad I found this one.

    And..oh boy...it's so true what you say in your last paragraph about listening being job-one--long before the appearance of that first word.

    Just love that last sentence. I want to remember this!


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