How to listen.

inside confessional

Stop. Just, for a moment, stop. Don’t think, anticipate, or guess. Just – for a moment – stop. Listen. No one says what they mean. And it’s impossible to hear what hasn’t been said without listening to what has.

So stop. Don’t think of what needs to be said next. Nothing is next. Now is not over yet. Anything prepared will twist apart the secret fashioned between this moment and the next. It needs to be heard. The breath between words, the clip of silent elision, the meaning born in the collision of sounds.

What we mean is not underneath. Words are not veils, crimson and purple shrouds over unmoving faces. It isn’t that there’s no similarity between what I hear and what I hear. Perhaps, if I could touch the cloth, trace the edges and planes of bone, and in feeling know the face — If I could see that way, and if I knew that was the only way — Well. Then words are that way.

When we speak, what we mean is neither hidden in the words nor obvious. Neither within nor without words. Or think of it this way: I mean what I say – and I don’t. I do, I do mean it, but I mean more than I can say too. It’s there in the struggle, what I mean, there in the vacillation between what I say and what I mean. In the flicker itself as I find the words, known in the saying and the uncertainty and the more. What I mean is in the words, in what they mean, and in the meaning that animates their speaking. Tantum and res and sacramentum, all there and not there – and not in the same way.

Here is what I mean: it is so hard to mean what we say.

But we really only know what we mean when we try to say it.

If that is how words are, if this is the way, then my God: stop. Wait until the saying is done. Make room for what hasn’t quite been said, but which is still there in the words. This is the hardest, most important thing. About listening.

It is easier to know what I would mean, or what someone else what meant, or to wait with the next argument. It is simpler to forget our own uncertainty, and imbue others with false confidence. It’s work, listening. So much effort to let go, and while letting go to bend the ear with total attention. Poised like a taught string: not yet a noise, but fully prepared to be. Listening is like that. It is not thinking nothing. It is more like waiting with something, or everything, that might help complete the sound. Finish the word that was said. A sentence is brought to an end only if it has been received.

Listening is for questions. It knows what it doesn’t know – or at least that it doesn’t know – and asks.

Listening expects without determining.

Even when listening to a lie: all is waiting and trying to know. Knowing enough to stop. For just a moment.

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