November 2006: Listening
The service began with a sound montage – sounds of traffic and people in conversation gradually became more intrusive and more complex, with voices of politicians and rap bands interwoven. Instead of the normal peaceful start to the service, this noise intruded and made us feel uncomfortable. It was noise to get away from, the unpleasant clamour of a busy and complex world. It grew to a crescendo and then abruptly stopped. And the silence was very sweet afterwards.
Welcome, opening prayer, songs of worship
six CD players around the room played sounds simultaneously – a car alarm, radio 4 news bulletin, ‘Jesus’ blood never failed me yet’, a baby crying, the sound of the sea, and the voice of a needy person who wanted to be listened to. We were invited to walk through the intersecting sound zones and to reflect on the experience. Which was easiest to listen to? Which sound did you want to escape? Where was God? Which needed to be attended to?
Reflection on the soundscape
News Bulletin "Meanwhile, several thousand miles away"
There's something strangely soothing about the news sometimes. Strange, when you think what awful things we hear about hour after hour. Can we ever hear God speaking in the litany of what Nick Cave calls "routine atrocities"? Are we driven to prayer, or lulled back to sleep?
Baby "I want to have some of your attention, give it to me"
Some things have been designed to grab our attention, not always in a pleasant way.
Alarms "Warning! Go back to sleep! Now!"
Something else designed to grab our attention in the middle of the night. But who pays the blindest bit of attention to a car alarm. There's a place for the urgent a case for too much urgency...
The Sea "Peace at last"
Calming... meditative. Do you feel closer to God when sat by the gentle ebb and flow? We often think of being closer to nature as being closer to God. But was Jesus closer to his father on a mountain top, or in a sea of human need and hunger?
Phone Conversation "Don't go ... not yet"
It may be heavier going than the sounds of nature; so many people with so many needs. But, to risk a little paraphrase; "whenever you listened to the least one of these, my children, you listened to me".
Music "Soothing? Moving?"
The sound of a tramp recorded near Waterloo and set to music. He was destitute but still able to sing "Jesus' blood never failed me yet". Sometimes music can point us to God with very specific declarations of faith and devotion. And, sometimes, perhaps God can slip under the radar with a rather less obvious message.
In groups of three and four we discussed a couple of questions:
• What does it feel like to be really listened to?
• How can we listen to each other better?
But the discussion had constraints. Each person took three tokens. Every time they spoke they put down one of the tokens, and when the tokens were gone they were not allowed to speak any more. We then discussed this method of discussing! Did you think more about what you were going to say when you knew that your opportunities to speak were precious? Did you listen more carefully? Did it affect the way you contributed to the conversation? How did you feel to have tokens in your hand when other people had used theirs?
Listening to God and listening to self
We were invited to walk around the church and interact with four stations. If people wanted to continue to be silent and still, they could go into the sound-proofed crèche room at the back of the church which was lit with candles.
• Obstacles to listening – what stops us listening to God and to ourselves? Take a block from the Jenga tower and write on it what stops you listening to God. Add it to the top of the tower, and come and collect it later
• Where do you hear God? Write or draw on a large piece of paper the places where you find it easier to hear God
• Ignatian spirituality – God speaks to us through our deepest yearnings and longings. Put your fingers on the pulse in your wrist. As you ‘listen’ to your heartbeat, listen to your heart and ask yourself the examen questions – for wat moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful?
• God listens to us – read about people in the Bible that God listened to - Anna, Hannah, David, Bartimaeus
A commitment to listen
We were invited to anoint our earlobes with scented oil as a commitment to listen more intentionally – to the world, to ourselves, to God or to others