I have this week been without a voice – a result, I assume, of a virus. It has reminded me how easily we fall-out of the habit of listening. I have had to listen and then be very selective about what I say because my voice can only cope with a few words. I have become aware how often I rush in with words, at times having not completely understood what has been said and not being clear that my contribution will add to the debate or conversation.
This temptation to rush in with words in often heard on news programmes such as ‘The Today’ programme on Radio 4. How often have we heard an interviewer keen to ask their question without hearing what is really being said? But it only reflects our tendency more generally. I was interested in the piece of performance art by Stelios Archiou. Stelarc has had a third ear surgically implanted in his arm and aims to use a miniature microphone to broadcast what it hears. It does suggest that maybe in the digital world we need to listen harder rather than do. And I suspect that if Stelarc does too much with his arm his ear will hear less.
It was during my training as a nurse I first come across the work of Dame Cicely Saunders who contributed so much to the care of the dying and the hospice movement. She talked about ‘presence’ – the ability to be with someone in the moment not thinking of what has just happened and not thinking of what needs to be done but present listening. It is an ability which we should practice whatever we do for living and more importantly practice in our relationships.
Being without a voice has also forced me to slow down – I have had to change my work schedule – which has given me more time (the reason why after months of trying I have set up my blog). In slowing down I was reminded of a book by Mark Barrett OBS Crossing – reclaiming the landscape of our lives (Darton, Longman and Todd 2001) in which Barrett describes how the offices of the monastic day provide markers on our spiritual journey. But more importantly for me he describes the importance of stopping during our day. In talking about Vespers (Evening Prayer) he writes
‘This moment in the day calls us to slow down. To understand this landscape we must travel on foot – the fast-moving vehicles we prefer to utilise will hinder our progress. There is a sense in which we can prevent this process from happening precisely by trying too hard – something that can be a puzzle to our achievement – orientated culture. But this process of discerning the shape of what has been cannot be striven for –it is freely offered and, if we wish we can choose to receive it.’
As my voice returns I hope that I can remember to travel on foot!