As a psychotherapist for decades, I never cease being stunned by the power of listening. The intentional act of focusing on every word that comes from the mouth of someone sitting across from me can indeed be transformative.
In our rushed, over-scheduled, pleasure-focused lives, the simple act of paying full attention to someone is rare. How many of us feel the urge to win an argument, dominate a conversation, score points in debates, or sound wise? Competition seems built into our genetic structure and can erupt in even casual conversation without our full awareness.
To take time to concentrate on zeroing in on the family member, spouse, co-worker, neighbor or casual acquaintance as they speak to us results in a shift in the dynamics of interaction that can put a person at ease, make them feel valued, relieve their anxiety, lower their defenses. They leave the chat lifted in ways we may never know. More importantly, they may depart and imitate our way of listening with the next person they meet.
When I pray over today’s Gospel selection from Luke, I imagine Jesus’ extraordinary capacity to connect to the suffering people by focusing and touching. The demons he did not allow to speak, perhaps to make space for the goodness of the needy person, the person’s authenticity, to emerge and transform their lives.
One theme of the best-selling book, The Body Keeps the Score, is personal pain and traumas can impact our bodies, sometimes resulting in various autoimmune and other diseases. It makes me wonder if Jesus, in his compassion, wasn’t aware of this and knew the way to free us from our dis-eases, whether emotional or physical, was profound love. The love that is expressed by undistracted listening and tender touch.
In today’s Gospel, the crowds didn’t want Jesus to leave them. It makes sense. To encounter such powerful human connection was as rare then as it is today. But it need not be. We are Christ’s only ears, eyes and gentle hands today. When we, by God’s grace, reach out to the worried, the physically ill, the emotionally distressed, the grieving, the addicted, the frustrated, the confused, we work miracles of healing as he did. We spread goodness. We change lives.
This is building God’s reign in our troubled world, person to person.
In quiet prayer today, when you can focus entirely on Jesus while alone, I encourage you to listen. His Spirit will guide you to heal and to transform. It may be a simple gesture of respect, a comforting comment, a visit to the funeral home, or a sit-down listening session with someone close or a stranger. Whoever you encounter, know God put that person in your life at that moment for you to share the most wonderful gift of all . . . love.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.