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    Entries in Listening (1)

    Friday
    Aug192016

    Review: A Spirituality of Listening

    When we imagine a person who is mature in Christ we think of someone persistent in action and filled with spiritual wisdom. We think of the words they say or the work they do. We associate that person with love, joy, patience, kindness, and other virtues. Only in rare cases do we think of the person who listens.

    But listening is the ground and starting point for the development of the person who is spiritually wise and mature.

    In A Spirituality of Listening: Living What We Hear (IVP Formatio, 2016), Keith Anderson argues for the practice of listening. We live in an age of distraction, overpopulated with words and filled with frenetic activity. We live at a time when people long for a word from God. There is restlessness and anxiety in both world and church.

    But God has spoken. God is speaking. We have failed to listen. “Be still,” the psalmist writes, “and know that I am God.”

    Hearing a word from God is often associated with esoteric religious experiences. But Anderson argues for a different account of the spiritual life and a different reading of the Bible. Anderson writes, “My claim is simple: spirituality is grounded in ordinary life experiences. We need to learn to listen to rhythms of life, narratives and creation. I also make a more complex claim: Jesus learned to know God through biblical forms still available to us.”

    Anderson merges two ideas. We encounter God in the everyday, and Jesus is the one who shows us how to listen. It is through Jesus-style listening that we come to know God.

    Anderson writes:

    Biblical spirituality says there is still a source that reveals the voice of the living God. It asserts that God is not done with the business of revelation and creation but instead continues to have something to say and something yet to be accomplished in the very culture that isn't sure if God is done speaking.

    Anderson writes of the creation, the commonplace, the Bible, and specifically the Psalms as locations where God is revealing himself. Anderson writes about Hebrew spirituality and Israel’s call to listen, found in Deuteronomy 6:4. He explores the prophetic voice, the cry of lament, and the example of Jesus as crucial points of investigation that help us become attuned to God’s manner of speaking.

    In his final chapter, Anderson explores otherness, community, and God’s diverse vehicles for bringing a word. Anderson states, “We aren't much good at listening to otherness--different languages, worldviews, ages, genders, sexualities, abilities, demographics, religions or philosophies.” It is not easy to listen to those who are different.

    Anderson sees our differences as akin to accent. He writes, “Learning to listen to God also means learning to listen to those who listen to God in ways that are unfamiliar or just different than my way.” I am from East Texas. I am well versed in sounding funny. And there are plenty of Christians (and people, for that matter) who sound like Yankees to me.

    Learning to listen to those who are different, those who are other, is one of the great challenges of Anderson’s book.

    Another challenge concerns God’s manner of speaking and how we come to listen to God’s voice. Anderson writes much of the commonplace as the domain of God’s revelation. There is truth in that claim. God teaches us within the context of our lives as they are lived today.

    But there is also the Bible. And therein lies the tension. Learning to hear God in the commonplace is best conducted when the experiences of everyday life are filtered through the biblical narrative. How God speaks to us in and through the Bible is a matter of theological debate. But it is through the words of Scripture that God has spoken and is speaking; it is as though an eternal, timeless voice echoes through the ages and comes to us as a word presently spoken.

    Listening is indispensable for spiritual formation in Christ. We cannot become mature Christians without learning how to listen. Jesus not only is our Savior, he is also our Teacher. Teachers instruct by example, but also through words. He is the Good Shepherd. Hearing his call to “come” is accompanied by his invitation to “follow.” In the words of the old hymn:

    Take up thy cross and follow me,
    I heard my Master say.
    I gave my life to ransom thee,
    Surrender your all today.

    Wherever he leads, I’ll go.

    But first, as Anderson reminds us, we must listen.