I am delighted to share another submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jason Jones’ wisdom about listening with the ear of our hearts.:
Hospitality of Listening
“He listens,” is what a new friend told me when we were both on retreat together. We both had daily times to visit with a retreat leader, and my friend asked how my session went. “Good,” I told him. “It was good. How about you?” “He listens,” is how my friend replied. The two words he listens said there was hospitality, openness, welcome, and safety in that time. My friend’s story and presence were welcomed in the listening. I had the same experience; I was welcomed in the listening.
A month ago I called a monastery, asking about scheduling a visit. The monk who answered my call checked the dates to make sure there was room and said, “Yes, you can come.” He didn’t ask for my biography or references, and he didn’t question me to make sure I was their type of person before welcoming me; it was only “Yes, you can come.” I asked if I needed to make a deposit to secure my place, “No,” he said, “we’ll hold your place for you. Just come.” He was honoring the basic instruction in The Rule of St. Benedict that says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” I know when I arrive at the monastery there will be a room and a bed and a place at their table and a welcome into the monk’s life of prayer. It’s a basic practice of hospitality, something that is part of the regular life of monastic communities.
Living as a monk in the world means hospitality is a part of our experience, too. We welcome the guest as we would welcome Christ, and this can be lived out in an open place at a dinner table or with a welcome to a guest room in our homes, but it can be practiced, too, in the gift of listening. Hospitality is shown when we consciously listen. Whenever we listen to another we show welcome to the guest.
Listening is not natural for most of us. When we listen we unlock and open the door of our hearts to hear and welcome another. For a moment we give up control to open ourselves to the experience of another, and that can be frightening. We resist hearing another’s story because we’re more comfortable with our own perspective. A friend, jokingly, said it well: “My problem is,” he said, “I think I’m right about most things, and I don’t have time for those who don’t understand how right I am.” He was teasing, but there was truth there; it’s hard to set aside our own rightness to hear another. When we listen, though, we set aside our exclusive claim to the truth so that we might welcome another’s experience.
Although doing it might be frightening, the guest whom we welcome may be the one who brings us the blessing. The person we listen to, the guest to whom we show hospitality, just might be a hidden angel coming to bless us in our welcome. Benedict understood this, saying the guest is to be welcomed as Christ. Benedict said, too, that the poor and the pilgrim should be especially welcomed, because “in them more particularly Christ is received.” When we welcome another, we’re to welcome them as we would Christ, because we know this other person is a creation of God, someone in whom God’s love and work and spirit is present. When we show the hospitality of listening, we’re welcoming into our lives the good things God has brought with that other person. Even when the other is challenging to us, a generous listen may bring an unexpected blessing.
Listening usually comes with a conscious choice to do it. We’re more comfortable plugging ourselves up with headphones or staring into our phones. The open door of a listening ear isn’t always our first impulse. When we do listen, though, we living out a basic openness that meets another not with suspicion or mistrust but with a monastic hospitality where we welcome whatever blessing he or she might bring. May there be an open place for the guest at your table and your home but most of all in the openness of your ears so that you might hear and know the blessing brought in your welcome and listening.
Quotes from Benedict come from: Fry, Timothy, ed. The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1981.
Jason Jones is the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Highland, Indiana (www.fcchighland.net ). He enjoys cooking, running, art-making, and spending an evening with Max, his cat, on his lap.