Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Life Together” (regarding Christian community) “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
Some of what I consider to be my most interesting photo images are of people in conversation with one another. I think that some of the interest is in facial expressions caught in a moment. They are unintentional and very natural as people either seek to tell their story or get a point across, or as they listen. What are the listeners doing? Are they taking in what they are hearing, or are their minds busy thinking of their response? What is being said? Is it the sharing of some facts, a point of view put forward, the relating of an event or story, or just idle tittle-tattle? The facial expressions are so expressive, yet they give little away about what is being thought. The Apostle James wrote: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James 1:19 He was emphasising the importance of listening for relationships and community – and necessarily so, because we are so bad at really and carefully listening to others. On the left is an extract from a book by the German theologian who was executed for his opposition to the Nazis.
The importance of listening lies in the simple fact that we all have a story to tell that is worth hearing. It may be of seemingly inconsequential everyday matters or a ground-breaking revelation, but all is of the life that God gives each and in witnessing to this life we witness to God. To counter some of the points made by Bonhoeffer and to enable a better witness to the life that God has given The Meeting Place @ Christ Church in Solihull includes both a coffee lounge where informal conversation will be the order of the day, and a Story Room, resourced to facilitate more purposeful story-telling and listening. Of course it is not just about talking and hearing. It is also about those times of silence, when we might really listen to the God who dwells within.