Saturday, September 22, 2007

Paying attention to how you listen…
By Pastor Clint Loveall, First Presbyterian Church, Spirit Lake

I don’t think I’m alone, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. After being out of town a few days recently, I returned to the office and started catching up on everything… phone calls, schedules, meetings, and email. That’s where it gets ugly; 692 emails, more than 100 a day. I could tell you I’m that busy, or that popular, or that important, but those are all lies. The truth is about 685 of those emails I don’t want, didn’t ask for, and don’t need. It’s the usual culprits… an online degree, cheap medication, be rich, be, uh, “better,” meet people I don’t already know, etc…

This junk email gets a great name, “spam”, which is probably an insult to our friends up in Austin , but the image of a gooey, smelly, meaty substance gumming up the works seems to fit. Email spam is so common that most people buy or download a “spam filter,” (another great visual), which sorts out the emails you want from the ones you don’t. They work pretty well but inevitably the “spammers” find a way around the filters and occasionally the filter puts something you actually want in the “spam folder.” But it helps, and for the most part catches the things that have no importance.

I have a good friend and mentor who sometimes talks about “listening to your life.” He means that God speaks to us through our experiences when we take the time and have the desire to listen, and that the scope of our journey on planet earth says something we need to hear. Frederick Buechner says the same thing this way, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: Touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of God because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” I love the idea, and I embrace it fully, but just between us, I wish I had a spam filter for my life. Something that sorted out moments filled with importance and separated them from all the regular stuff that’s just empty advertising. I could use the help, to be honest, because I’m afraid I miss some great moments only to realize later that an opportunity was staring me in the face and I blew it. Someone who needed a kind word, a friend who was hurting, a stranger who I could have helped, a lesson I needed to learn, words I should have kept to myself. I’m afraid that I fly past a lot of God-moments. I’m also afraid I pay too much attention to the spam. It’s flashy, it makes good promises, it’s exciting. Sure, it’s junk, but it’s shiny junk and sometimes it catches my eye. Too often, the things that I think matter really don’t and the things I ignore really do. The sacred and the superfluous are can be difficult to sort.

After explaining a parable one time, Jesus told his hearers, “Pay attention to how you listen.” I don’t know if I get all of what that means, but it has to partly be that we should work hard to hear the right things and not be diverted by the spam in our lives. Think of it this way; God is going to speak to you today. Seriously, the Lord God, the Almighty, the Alpha/Omega is absolutely going to speak to and through your life today. Among all the voices that call for your attention and ask for your time, one of them will be God’s. The question is, will we hear it? Will we pay attention to how we listen? Will our cup be running over with goodness and mercy, or will our inbox just be running over?

It’s frustrating, but here’s what I think I know about God. Outside the occasional burning bush, God generally speaks softly. God whispers often and shouts rarely, probably so we have to actually be trying to listen in order to hear. Too often we are walking around waiting for the thundering voice and missing the divine whisper. God speaks to us constantly we just don’t listen very well, possibly because we’ve already decided what we want God to say.

God wants to speak to you today, and it may not be what you expect. It will be subtle and deep and powerful, probably not loud and flashy. It may be only a whisper among the spam, but of everything in your life, it will be what you most need to hear. So pay attention to how you listen.