It is the first thing we ever do, right? We listen to our mothers’ voices and heartbeats in the womb. When we emerge, we listen to the voices around us before our eyes even focus. We listen to people speaking for months before we attempt to speak ourselves, and almost a year before our tongues and lips get their acts together such that we have any success.

So what happens then? When we go to learn a second (or third or fifth or twentieth) language, we are first taught to speak. Say “Hello!”



And then conjugate the verb “to be” – right? je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous etes, ils sont – it has been well over twenty years since Miss Bennett pounded that drill into my head, but I can still conjugate “etre” in my sleep. Yay me. I can’t have a conversation with a French speaking person, but I can conjugate the heck out of all regular and some irregular verbs. I can even put together sentences with some degree of semi-accuracy. Enough to make myself understood, in any case. And I remember how to say some of the critically important phrases in every language I have studied – “Je t’aime/Ti amo/Mwen renmen ou” of course, but also “Ou se trouve le WC?/¿Dónde está el baño?/Ki kote twalet?”

But I really fall down in the linguistics department with the listening. I do not understand most of what is spoken to me in French, Spanish, or Creole, or for that matter signed to me in ASL. It was the first thing I could do in my native tongue, but the last I am learning in all the others. Why would that be?

I have studied conflict managment, marital communications, counseling strategies, Socratic teaching, negotiation – all kinds of different “individual” studies that are really all the same study… how to listen. When other people talk, the most common human response is not to listen. It is to start planning for what we are going to say next. A million dollar industry exists just to teach people how to listen… people pay money for this. To learn how to do the first thing we ever knew how to do. What’s that about?

And how does that affect my prayer life? I am very very good at talking to God. Really. I wonder if He would not prefer that I babble at Him a bit less at times. But when it comes time to shut up and listen to Him – my mind goes off in so many different directions it looks like a pinball game when you hit that one bumper that drops in three extra balls. And I know how to quiet my mind, to still my thoughts and let my brain rest, listen, touch the “intuition” that springs directly from the Holy Spirit. I have known how to do that for most of my life. My mother is a yoga teacher, for Pete’s sake!

But I don’t. Or at least not often. It simply does not occur to me.

What is up with that?

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