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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"A Spirituality of Listening" (Keith R. Anderson)

TITLE: A Spirituality of Listening: Living What We Hear
AUTHOR: Keith R. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (208 pages)

God has revealed himself and is still revealing more today. The question is: Are we listening? In this book, author and President of Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, Keith R. Anderson shows us that life is meaningfully sustained with listening. We all have lots to learn about listening. It is not about hearing words but the meaning the hearing entails. In order to listen well, one needs to be able to love the beauty of words, sounds, and stories. Listening well comes with cherishing the relationship in the first place. It means learning to spend time in the presence of God, not just waiting for audible voices. Anderson calls it "resonance" which is not simply an "echo" but a "complex point and counterpoint." In other words, listening is not passive receiving but active engagement. Such engagements can be in the form of questions for the self and moments of reflections.

We learn about listening to creation and the things that God has created. If we listen well, we do not simply see the good in things but the greatness of God that these created things testify. We see the extraordinary amid the ordinary. As we grow in listening, we also grow in wonder. We are more attentive to the normal things of life, and learn not to take things for granted. Even the act of reading can be a form of listening. He points out some of the flawed ways we read that we do nowadays that inhibit good listening.
  • We use our mind alone to analyze rather than observe;
  • We read in order to confirm our own ideas rather than to learn
  • We read critically to respond rather than to appreciate
  • We read quickly to get answers rather than to understand the author
  • We read for personal gain rather than for edifying others
  • We read in order to form views rather than relationships...
We learn about intentional listening through the HEAR strategy: Halt; Engage; Anticipate; Replay. There are also ample opportunities to practice our listening skills and abilities. In the everyday world like the household, Anderson gives us the metaphor of a theater of life, like watching nature unfold its beauty and splendour. The word 'oikos' means 'household' and the world is God's stage to reveal His creation and glory. We cultivate our listening by being attentive to what God has created. We listen consciously. We listen together with people. We listen wisely from experience. We listen actively through journaling and silence.  Listening also involves learning from the Hebrew culture. While the Hebrew word for hearing can also be translated as obedience, we learn that we can listen where we are. Just like Jesus who calls us to listen to the ordinary birds and to observe the lilies of the fields, we learn about "shema spirituality." We learn to listen to the story of life and in the process learning about our identity as well. This is rather profound as we locate our own story within the bigger story of God.  Using the Psalms, we can learn to orientate our listening according to Scripture. We learn joy and sorrow. We learn to lament. We learn to praise. We learn to exercise our spiritual sensitivity through our natural senses. 

Part of learning to listen also involves being convicted of sin, and to be made to listen to what is needful for us, even things that we do not like to hear. Just like the prophetic voices of old, God often leads and disciplines us because we are loved. In Church, we can cultivate listening in worship and in the sermon. Some practical tips involve a Mars Hill Church's guide for listening to a sermon in worship. Throughout the book, we read about listening that extends far beyond our individual earlobes. Through time past, present, and future, we can listen all of our lives. Here are three thoughts about this book.

So What?

First, the importance of listening is critical to spiritual maturity. So much Christian teaching have been centered on getting things done and doing things well. Whether it is about evangelism and outreach strategies or about Church growth; whether it is about Bible study and discipleship programs; whether it is about doing Church well or about praying better, lots of these initiatives center around rushing to achieve results, our way and our timing. Listening counters all of these. I believe a lot of cases of people getting burn out or spiritual exhaustion is a result of poor listening. It is one thing to have the know-how and the skills to do something. It is yet another to know of the timing. If we trust God to empower us to do things in His way and according to His perfect timing, there is always time to do what is necessary. This comes from a ear to listen out for God.

Second, this book gives us lots of practical ways to grow our listening skills. We can practice listening to our own voices as we read Scripture aloud. We can listen to our own hearts as we write out our thoughts within our journals. We can use silence, postures, music, tones, and the ability to nuance the sounds to aid our listening. The prayer of Examen is a fantastic tool to help us remember God's presence; being grateful; and to respond in virtuous ways. We learn to read and pray with listening as a posture. Once we have grown our ability to listen, we do not need sounds in order to sense the voice of God. We can be like Elijah who is able to wait and to listen for the gentle whisper of the Spirit. Even in silence, we can listen.

Third, listening moves us outward to practicing Philippians 2:4 better, which is to learn to look to the interests of others more than our own. In our society where individualism and consumerism are rampant, we need a gentle corrective to bring back our humanness in our relationships. It helps us to be better servants as we not only listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we get to know the needs of others. In doing so, listening equips us to love God, to love our neighbour, even as we love ourselves.

Listening is not merely what we hear. It is also what are we listening out for. Most importantly, we learn to cultivate meaningful relationships both vertically in God and horizontally with people. The spirituality of listening does not end with the last page of this book. I believe this book is just a launchpad for greater listening that is to come. Great book!

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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