Monday, August 20, 2018

Listening as Self Emptying

Greetings One and All,

There is a biblical principle for becoming more skilled as a story listener. There are different ways of talking about this principle but what is most surprising is the agreement from more than one source. I am going to show how Scripture (Philippians 2), a medical doctor, and a pastoral care researcher all emphasize the same principle. 

My way of talking about this principle is to drop our own agendas while listening to the other person's story. We are to have nothing up our sleeve. We are to be as non-manipulative as possible while attending to what the other person is saying. 

On occasion I have called listening "Christmas," a present Incarnation,  where you make room in the inn of your consciousness for the new that is unfolding in the story. Rachel Stanworth uses the term "spacious listener" where we give the other person space to tell their story.

Getting back to Philippians 2 and the line, "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 2:5) There are a few lines before it.  "2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.   3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.   4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.   5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,"  

The word Mind is used three times. The Greek word for mind here is a very specific word, forms of phronesis, meaning a down to earth and practical mind. You might think the Greek word sophis would be used here for Christ. Sophis refers more to wisdom or ultimate realities. The word says a lot about the mind of Jesus from a practical standpoint. There are other passages to support this down to earth approach but lets start here. Being down to earth and practical may not be the easiest thing to do at times. I find it down right difficult. A real disciplined perspective may be needed as we proceed. We are talking about our preparation to listen. Paul continues in talking about Jesus preparation in being along side us.

"6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,   7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."   

Emptied himself becomes the crux of the message. Kenosis in Greek. The word will be moved by folks who talk about listening to convey our own preparation.

Dr. Rita Charon in her book Narrative Medicine has this to say about listening.

"Attention connotes the emptying of self so as to become an instrument for receiving the meaning of another." (Charon, p. 132)

Rachel Stanworth did a research project at St. Christophers Hospital in London. She interviewed 25 people who were dying. She heard their stories, their concerns, and especially the words they used to convey what has happening to them. She transcribed all the interviews and came up with 9 metaphors for expressing the commonality in their stories. What may come as a surprise is the early section of her book is given to her own preparation for the task of listening. She too writes about self emptying in this way.

"Slowly, I began to learn that to really hear another is akin to an active divestment of self." (Stanworth, p. 39)

The footnotes of both books indicate neither has read the other. Without any collaboration they both join with St. Paul, the down to earth and practical mind to hear the significant story of another begins with the discipline of self emptying. 

By the way, St. Paul advocates this kind of mind for every day folk like you and I. He says this mind is ours in Christ. Don't let professionals become an excuse because they advocate the same.   

As Christ is the Incarnate one, the word was made flesh who dwelt among us, our listening at its best participates in that same Incarnation mode as the word of another takes on reality in our understanding.

Marlin Whitmer

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