Many of our readers are pastoral or spiritual care providers, and only some actually have the opportunity to teach or to preach in a formal way, that is, by way of sermons or homilies.
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When Listening is Greater than Talking
Why the homilist should be a more skilled listener to be a better talker.
I feel that bereavement provides one of those moments of what we theologians call kairos, a supreme opportunity. If spiritual care providers are blessed with the opportunity to officiate at funeral or memorial celebrations, such opportunities are kairos moments not only for practicing our ministry of compassion for the suffering but also for proclaiming our fundamental sacred doctrines on living and dying, and what may come after.
We tend to talk a lot about homiletics and talk is what we apparently do best. But homiletics, good homiletics and the product, the revealing homily, requires good listening skills. Dag Hammarskold said, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. Only he who listens can speak.” This brings me to mind two ways of communicating with that voice within: lectio divina and the lesser known lectio continua. I’ll have more to say about those two disciplines and their role in homiletics in a later article on the Homiletics and Sprititual Care blog. Reflection and self-examination are also very important when it comes to listening authentically. Again, I’ll comment on these in a later editorial.
For now it may be interesting to look at some listening statistics:
But here are some more startling listening facts:
Listening is the communication skill most of us use the most frequently. Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.
Thought speed greater than speaking speed. Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible).
So listening is a critical skill that needs to be developed by us as spiritual care providers, particularly those of us involved in a teaching/preaching ministry that requires us to confect effective homilies.
No doubt you have seen depictions of the Buddha with long pendulous ears and probably have asked yourself, “Why does Buddha have such big ears?” Well, in the Orient large ears are looked upon as auspicious because they indicate wisdom and compassion. So, the Buddha is depicted as having big ears because he is the compassionate one. He hears the sound of the world – hears the cries of suffering beings – and responds. The important thing for us is not how large our ears are, but how open are our “mind ears.”
As a professional interfaith chaplain practicing primarily in bereavement and grief facilitation, I find that listening, effective authentic listening is profoundly important in several prominent situations:
- Initial interview
- Family interview
- During lectio divina and lectio continua
- During reflection on potential readings
- When selecting hymns
- When rehearsing the homily.
Listening for the interfaith chaplain is also especially important when communicating with colleagues in spiritual care ministries of other faith and belief traditions, and in exchanges with hospital, nursing home, funeral home staff, and with members of the community.
An important concept to bear in mind when writing homilies is that while the assembly is listening to the words, the sounds coming from my vocal apparatus, they should be moved to listen to the internal voice that speaks in them during that outside listening. After all, that’s our target as homilists, to get that internal voice speaking and the listener listening to that voice.
Special thanks go to Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl of the University of Missouri for their insights in: “Listening: Our Most Used Communication Skill,” at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/CM150, last accessed on December 9, 2015.