A Listening Heart

So give your servant a discerning heart…

1 Kings 3:9

One of the things I’ve found most moving in Quaker worship is the focus on listening. I sit, whether in Meeting for Worship or on my own, and listen for wisdom, comfort, challenges, or whatever may come. It’s not always an easy task. It takes time and effort to discern what’s meaningful and what’s my own wandering thoughts or what I wish I was hearing. It’s helped me personally in a number of ways, but for now I want to focus on listening.

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian faith, I was often focused to obsessive levels on speaking to God. Begging for certainty that I was saved. Pleading that people I loved who weren’t Christians would be spared from Hell. Asking for God to end the violence that others directed at me or that I directed at myself. All that desperate petitioning naturally led me to worry whether God was listening to me. It didn’t lead me very often to ask if I was listening for God.

The phrase “a listening heart” is one of the translations of what Solomon asked for in the book of Kings, when he asks God for wisdom. When I chose my first name (transgender experiences will be another day’s topic!), I settled on Sofia in part because it means wisdom. I’ve always tried to view it as an aspiration rather than a destination I’ve reached, and I think the idea of a listening heart mirrors that aspiration. It’s wisdom in active form. It needs to be practiced consistently if it’s to be useful. It acknowledges that the source of wisdom is something we have access to, but not something we own.

Solomon was far from perfect at listening throughout his life, and that’s led me to overlook him most of the time. It’s easy for me to write off any given state authority figure as evil and corrupt without much further thought, but I want to hold on to Solomon’s original request as a reminder. Of course power and wealth disconnect us from other people and from God, and I’m not likely to have that problem on quite the same scale as Solomon. My prayers growing up were never for those things, and I’ve moved on from a lot of the beliefs and circumstances that led me to lie awake whole nights dreading and praying and trying to control those particular aspects of human experience. However, I still find myself quite often feeling panicked and desperate for control when things don’t go in the direction I’ve convinced myself is right. Quaker worship gives me a chance to remember that my role is to listen and then to follow the wisdom that’s spoken to me.

3 thoughts on “A Listening Heart

  1. AL Koster

    Do you consider your blog post above congruent with Pacific Yearly Meeting’s “Advices and Queries” on Spiritual Life? Those are at http://www.sanjosefriends.org/quaker-testimonies/#Second_Month_Spiritual_Life
    Specifically, would you consider your post congruent with the queries:
    Do I live in thankful awareness of God’s constant presence in my life?
    Am I sensitive and obedient to the leadings of the Holy Spirit?
    When do I take time for contemplation and spiritual refreshment?
    What steps am I taking to center my life and to stay open to continuing revelation?

    I ask because our next “spiritual discussion group” has as its focus the queries above. One newcomer to Friends was having difficulty with the queries and asked if your post is congruent with the queries. Apparently your post speaks to her in a way the queries don’t.

    • snlemons

      I’m honored to hear my writing spoke to this Friend and glad to meet you! I love this statement from that page:

      “Friends believe that the spiritual path is best found in community.”

      I think it’s the part that’s least present in what I wrote above, but possibly most important. I certainly had many thoughts in the same spirit as these queries in mind when writing this. Wisdom being a practice more than a personal attribute, being thankful for each piece of wisdom or guidance received, and doing the work to be open to continuing revelation. But bringing our leadings, difficulties, and discoveries back to our community to support and challenge each other is vital, as well!

      These queries also make me think about how we connect continuing revelation to tradition and past sources of wisdom. It’s something I often find challenging both in relation to Friends and the wider Christian community.

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