Listen Closely, Very Closely

In Rita Leganski’s moving novel, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, the title character can hear flowers grow. Impossible? Geobiologist and author of the autobiographical Lab Girl, Hope Jahren, attests that in summer, in the Midwest, she can hear sweet corn growing as the layers of husks shift.

Just as there is more to see than meets the eye, there may well be subtle sound levels to “hear.” Can we master this skill? Attentive Listening is one of the 10 practices that Dr. Stephen G. Post emphasizes as a concrete form of giving, “love made visible.” (See

Maybe all of us should become as observant as scientists to gain “a feeling for the organism(s)” as Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock did, or as observant as artists perceiving intricacies in flowers or drift wood or bone, as did Georgia O’Keefe. (See "10 best" flower paintings in the Guardian.)

Maybe we won’t quite see the corn grow an inch in a day, as Dr. Jahren might, or “hear” the color blue as Bonaventure did. But if we truly desire to hear a heart beating in another, we just might.

The Episcopalian priest the Rev. Stefanie Taylor tells the story on her blog of an action of her 3-year-old son when his 9-month-old sister returned home from a heart catherization. He simply and gently placed his hand over the heart of his little sister, a gesture his mother describes as a healing ritual. His hand “heard” her heartbeat.

No wonder Shakespeare has the blinded, repentant King Lear describe his own emerging sensitivity: I see feelingly.

Do any readers recall an assignment in creative writing that directed students to “collect tiny sounds,” name nearly imperceptible sounds? Try it. Such an activity focuses us on often unheard sounds.

Our Campus Ministers invite faculty and staff to listen in silence for 45 minutes—without commentary—to hear essential communications from students’ immersions. What a discipline, what a grace, what a mutual gift: silent absorbing of a holistically affecting experience.

While the summer sun soothes the earth, let us take time to soothe our senses for a bit, and give the gift of attentive-listening and heart-focusing. The Book of Kings (1 Kings: 11-13) reminds us that Elijah did not find God in the dramatic, i.e., in the wind or fire or the crashing rocks of earth quakes or fire, but in “a whispering voice”; no, “a tiny” whispering voice. Listen. Listen closely.

Spirit of the Living God,
You are Fire;
You are Wind;
You are the Power of the Elements;
But more intimately,
You are a whispering voice
within us.
May we listen
very closely
while You speak
to our hearts.