A few nights ago, I listened to one of my favorite musicians, Edgar Meyer. He is a virtuoso double bass player who happens to be a native son of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where our family spent 20 years. On this recording, he teams up with his friends Bela Fleck and Mike Marshall. Their playful and beautiful compositions are complexly layered. It makes me smile as I listen. Their imaginations give voice to music that creatively mixes jazz, bluegrass and classical styles.
I have heard this CD many times over the years. The pieces are wonderfully familiar, so as I listened, I let the music wash over me. You know how you settle into a comfortable chair, put on your favorite music and let your mind rest in the ebb and flow of the music…. I wasn’t ready for it to end, so I listened again. Only this time I read the liner notes, read who composed which piece and what instruments each person played. I paid attention in a way that I hadn’t in a while: harmony, dissonance, separate voices and perfectly melded sounds, rhythms I could rock to or dance to. It was beautiful and brought to mind other ways I hear the same thing differently when I pay attention.
When I pray, my soul is comforted by the beautifully melodic phrases of Thomas Cranmer’s prayers. I know many of them by heart. They speak deeply to me, touching my inner being. Depending on what has been happening in my life, the prayers speak to me in different ways. I recall the lump in my throat while I prayed Compline after my mother had died, “Come to me all who are heavy- laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls…” Another night, as I prayed Compline with my Education for Ministry group, the room seemed filled with “celestial brightness” as we prayed “that by night as by day [we] may glorify [God’s] holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Listening is a skill we can develop, and a gift we can give to others as well as to ourselves. When we allow ourselves to truly listen, the Holy Spirit reaches out and touches our souls – through music, through prayer and through the people around us. How is the Holy Spirit trying to reach you as we approach the season of Advent? Are you listening?
Like Edgar Meyer’s music, each person’s life is complexly layered. As we listen intently to another person, we honor his or her story and dignity. We acknowledge Christ in her. We notice common threads that bind us one to another. We begin to appreciate the rich complexity of another person’s life, and so better understand how to hold it gently and compassionately. Prayerful listening involves focusing our attention wholly on the other person, listening to the spoken and unspoken, not being distracted by how we will respond. It involves trust between the two people, and trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Even though we will never be able to fully know or understand the music of someone else’s soul, when we listen with open hearts and minds, we honor that person. As we listen, through prayer or intentionally focused time, we begin to hear harmonies, dissonances and resolutions. When we truly listen, we delight in playful creativity and let ourselves to feel those emotions through which the Holy Spirit is speaking to us. In the coming four weeks of Advent, may we allow the music of the Holy Spirit to reach our souls and prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.