Lately, when June and I arrive at the Hermitage each morning as we walk from our car to the chapel we often find ourselves stopping along the way. We stop, and we listen. The chorus of morning sounds: of bird calls and critter noises is growing in variety and volume as the days grow warmer. We love to take a moment to bathe in these beautiful sounds before heading inside for prayer.
Once inside, as we sit quietly, beginning morning prayer the leader rings the singing bowl to begin the service. The prayer leader then ends the great silence of the night and utters the first words spoken each morning “Oh God, come to my assistance.” We continue the service with words spoken, sung, and chanted. In most services, after the reading of the gospel, we sit in silence with the instructions to “Listen for God’s word to us today.”
Listening is one of the most important activities at the Hermitage. The deep silence that characterizes the Hermitage is there to help us all be attentive and listen. We listen for God’s voice which can come in a myriad of ways, but we don’t notice it, if we don’t listen for it. We may hear God in the call of the crow. We may hear God in the words spoken affirming us as the bearer of God’s infinite life. We may hear God in the affirmations and questions of our spiritual director. We may hear God in the stirrings of our hearts, or the aching of our souls. We may hear God as we deeply engage with a scripture text and hear Jesus ask us “What do you need from me?”
The Rule of St. Benedict begins with the word “Listen” and the admonition to “incline the ear of your heart” to the teacher. Inclining the ear of one’s heart to God is the first, and final task for the person on retreat, as it is for everyone else.
(It is one of my favorite quirks of the English language that Silent and Listen are anagrams – the same letters rearranged.)