On one occasion, after he had moved into a nursing facility, he wanted me to bring communion to share. As we chatted, he started talking about the changes he has seen in our world, especially in the way people communicate with each other. He was shocked that people used a phone to type short messages and that they were always more interested in what was on the phone than what was right in front of them—other people.
The nurses seemed to be distracted at every chime that struck their phone. He wanted to know them, their stories and what life was like for them. Yet he sensed that even when they were present, they weren’t actually present. Their minds were somewhere else. Through that conversation, we began to chat about this gift of listening. Clearly, we all know the difference between active listening and inactive listening.
Active listening is hearing fully and being engaged. It is listening that we take in and give our whole presence to the one before us. It is a listening that tells another that they have all of our focus and we can engage fully in conversation.
For Israel, the highest of laws was the Shema. Jesus, in facts, uses this law as the basis of the Great Commandment—to Love God and to love each other. The Shema is a command to a people to be active listeners…and then doers of what they have heard. It starts out with, “Listen (hear), O Israel!” It is a command to be present to this call by hearing and enacting its content. Why might it start with this imperative to listen? Simply put, it is quite possible to hear without ever actually hearing. As the old adage states, “In one ear and right out the other.” Our God instead wants our undivided attention—we have a vital role to play in this world by living a certain way…the way of love!
The Shema goes on to say, “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.