Students had assembled for an October chapel service as several dozen faculty members strode to the front of the Great Hall bearing symbols of their work — a laser in the hands of a physicist, clay in the hands of an artist, spreadsheets borne by an economist. Each offering was placed on the stage, transforming it into an altar. Prayers of blessing consecrated each symbol of the professors’ work and communicated a valuable lesson to the student body on that day: All work is holy work when the worker is listening for the voice of God.
A Spirituality of Listening is Keith Anderson’s argument that listening to the voice of God, paying attention to the rhythms of obedience, discipleship, and worship, mark the beginning of “living what we hear.” All of our spirituality is “grounded in ordinary life experiences.” In the process of sharing from his own life and the deep well of his reading and thinking, principles of listening practice emerge that are based in the author’s understanding of spirituality: “learning to pay attention to the speaking voice of God in everything; paying attention to God’s active presence and seeking to stand in that place.”
Listening fosters spirituality in its simplest form, for God shows up in time and space. During Old Testament times and in the time of Christ, interaction with the Word of God happened through listening. Life in an oral culture gave weight to the words of Genesis 1: “God said . . .” It is not for nothing that Jesus made his point eight times in the Gospels: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Therefore, for the one who believingly follows the speaking God, listening must be an intentional “emptying of distractions and noises that gives [the] soul space to hear what is there.”
A Spirituality of Listening was written on the fly — not in a quiet office, but in moments snatched in a crowded ferry terminal and in noisy places Keith Anderson inhabits each day. His writing an exercise in attention itself, he offers his thoughts on filtering and classifying sounds on a continuum from white noise, through business sounds, sounds that trigger emotions, the endless chatter of one’s inner storyteller, and, finally, “meaning sounds where you are making sense out of the storyteller in your mind.” Paul emphasizes the importance of the everyday life, urging his readers to make even our listening into a spiritual discipline, to train the ears and the heart to work together in finding the voice of God in everyday, ordinary life.
The idea that story matters is central to Anderson’s thinking. God has given the biblical narrative as a guide for truly hearing our own life’s story, and even so, we live in the midst of an unfolding plotline that yields, at times, more questions than answers. Keith Andersons’ wife suffers from the constant pain of idiopathic neuropathy, and so he queries: Where is God in this? Listening, he sees that the answer will not be an audible defense, but instead a gradual, unfolding story to which he and his wife must keep listening.
God’s “be still” in Psalm 46:10 is His invitation to persist in one’s trajectory of faith, for God is in the business of speaking — but is also a Listener whose ears are tuned to the language of lament. Coming down with both feet on the position that lament is an act of bold faith, Keith Anderson asserts that lament makes for good theology. God’s Old Testament prophets reinforce that justice is a core value to God — not merely in their lament, but also in their statements about God and worship.
As Jesus listened to the words of Torah, active listeners today tune their ears to His words in the Gospels. Listening comprises both “Remember” and “Observe,” because it will be our humble voices that carry the Divine Voice to future generations through our words and our deeds. Both community and solitude have their impact upon the listening life today (even as they did in the earthly life of Christ), and the example of Jesus teaches that the voice of God may be heard in “unexpected voices and surprising places.”
Wendell Berry (one of the many excellent writers quoted in A Spirituality of Listening) is at his wisest when he yields the podium to Jayber Crow who said:
“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out only a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”
This is the nature of all story-telling, and is especially true when we are listening for God. There is always more. Keith Anderson’s writing emphasizes the absolute other-ness of God while, at the same time, exalting the truth that incarnation has made sacred every little thing. Knowing that I am heard by the-God-who-speaks-and-the-God-who-also-hears draws me into active and expansive listening, waiting for the heart of another to be unmasked — or for whatever God might choose to reveal.
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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