ÂListen, my son.Â
These are the famous words with which the Rule of St Benedict begins. Before anything else, before any reference to God, the Bible or the Church, Benedict commands his monks to listen. But this word, listen, is not to be translated casually. It denotes acute attention. Someone once described it to me as the way a doctor will listen with concentration using his stethoscope.
To listen has its root in the same word as to obey. The person listening is doing so from choice, from will, desirous of following what is being offered. So listening of this sort is the first step in obedience. We have to listen to hear what God wants. Jesus was always telling his followers to listen.
Listening of this sort is not superficial, surface listening. And it is not just done with the ears, but with the eyes, nose, through taste, touch, the mind and the heart. It can happen only when we are attentive and awake to the present moment. Because we are all weak and frail human beings much more often asleep than awake, we find it hard to listen. But we take in more than we consciously know which is why using a prayer like the Examin at the end of the day, alerts us to experiences we were often hardly aware of at the time.
If we listen: try to remain awake and alert, we become aware that God is speaking to us all the time, through everything in creation. We know he speaks through the Word made flesh and through the word of scripture, through art, music, poetry, worship, silence, nature and human relationships. We know he is the God of surprises who sometimes talks to us through quite ordinary small things which we see (or perhaps donÂt really see) every day Â and then one day we wake up and we have listened with our eyes and the veil over them has gone.
Jesus spoke to us in metaphor and parable, and God still does when we listen with all of our being.Â Â ÂIt is as ifÂ ,Â Jesus begins his story. One thing puts us in touch with another and the story unfolds or the memory is nudged or consciousness awakens.
Just lately, I have had more opportunity to listen. I have had to be out of the house early to walk the dog so instead of rushing straight to work I have meandered through LaundeÂs gardens at dawn. Yesterday, as I walked, the sky was clear and the sun was just above the horizon: an extraordinary and huge ball of copper fire backed by a rose-pink sky. Today at the same time, there was mist and darkness, dripping trees, wet undergrowth, and a sense of presence in the shadowed woods. As I walked through the Launde copse, spidersÂ webs kept catching my face and when I reached the Calvery and stared up at the figure of Christ which was silhouetted against the lightening sky I saw that a spider had made a web in the armpit of the statue. It hung like lace between arm and rib cage and ChristÂs face turned gently towards it, seemed to be observing it Â this tiny creature that had made its lair under the protective arm of Christ.
There were the dripping trees, the silhouetted face of Christ turned towards this tiny part of his creation. And there, right there, was the whole world.