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Listening During Meeting: An Apologia

Renie Wong Lindley
On Science (November 2022)
Inward Light

The ear listens, the mind translates. How many times during meeting for worship have I gotten it backwards! I listen with my mind. I ask a question or mull over a problem inside my head and hope God will hear me and answer back, inside me. Then if a worthy thought emerges, I stand to speak. Or if nothing, I’ll blame hearing the bus rumbling down the street, so loud and distracting.

As a musician, I have always known that listening to recorded music is much different than listening to live music. Live music comes to your ear with a richness of overtones and colors. Depending on the surroundings, the sound of live music can actually create a feeling of architectural depth. And live music vibrates your bones, which have hollow spaces similar to wood. Playing in orchestra, my experience has been, “I am sound.”

Let that then be a lesson to me to truly listen during meetings for worship. A dog barking on the street, children laughing loudly next door, the parrot singing in the tree outside the window, a Friend snoring softly and another sniffling and coughing: all these sounds that my ears can hear are to be taken in with spiritual connection and without distinction, as part of the richness of the hour of worship.

Children and babies experience everything around them. They see emotions expressed; they hear the whisper of a breeze; they feel a soft cheek – all at the same moment. Eventually their brains will separate these sensations into different experiences at different times and translate them into different thought patterns. 

Thankfully, throughout our lives, we retain, in our spiritual center, these wordless and timeless experiences.

When we experience them live, the Arts – music, visual art, dance, architecture, poetry, and yes, silence – are the nearest translations our minds can produce to express what God is showing us. Listen to what is alive all around us.

Renie Wong Lindley is a member of the Worship and Ministry Committee of Honolulu Friends Meeting (PacYM).

Meeting for Worship listening

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