Publisher's Pick: Listen acutely — you'll be amazed by what you hear

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A few weeks ago, the reverie of Sunday morning worship was startled into acute listening. A reading from the writings of Henri Nouwen captured my attention.

Weeks later, I continue to ponder what I heard. I took an opportunity to Google search, to learn more about the internationally renowned Dutch-born priest and author, a respected professor who wrote more than 40 books about the spiritual life.

Nouwen (1932-1996) wrote that listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very being. "The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their own words more seriously and discovering their own true selves," he wrote. "Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully and even to dare to be silent with you."

"Ah-ha," thought me. I believe myself to be a good listener, one who tries not to interrupt while someone is speaking to me, tries to concentrate on what others are saying instead of thinking about what I next want to say, tries to be as engaged a listener as a speaker wishes me to be.

"Ah-ha," may say my friends and co-workers, my wife and children. Chapman isn't as good a listener as he thinks he is.


Well, please give me credit for new-found awareness.

Undivided attention

While writing this column yesterday afternoon, I was interrupted by a phone call from PB receptionist Judy Zelinske, asking if I had time to come to the reception area to meet with Lynn Clarey, who had popped in to see me.

Well, many writers would not wish their concentration to be interrupted midstream, and I would be one. After all, I had this column's deadline looming — which in the end, I missed by a mile. (Sorry, Marguerite, my heroic copy editor!)

Yet, Lynn is one of this community's volunteer "good guys." I felt obligated to see him, to learn the reason for his visit. I finished a sentence, then trotted down to reception.

Lynn was ever-so apologetic about his unannounced appearance. I could have, should have, hospitably invited Lynn into my office. But, well, you know. I had a deadline looming, and I thought I couldn't afford the time to be my typically gracious self.

With both of us leaning against the counter with receptionist Judy looking on, I exchanged a moment's pleasantry waiting for Lynn to tell me the reason for his visit.

Lynn must have felt an anxious vibe from me, doggone it. Thus, he launched into rapid-fire explanation for his visit. It immediately struck me that if ever I had a need to practice acute listening skills, Lynn was affording me the opportunity.


I won't divulge today the reason for Lynn's visit, as it is worthy fodder for another column.

What I can share is that listening to Lynn, deeply and acutely, was joyful. Holding his blue-eyed gaze steady in my own, I watched Lynn's bright eyes mist up as I listened. Well, I knew that the unplanned interruption truly was a gift of spiritual listening.

Hearing isn't enough

As I gleaned from the writings of Nouwen, the difference between hearing and true listening is acute. "Hearing" is an unconscious function, whereas "listening" is an active, conscious process. The implication is whether someone is really paying attention or not. Often, only superficial communication takes place when deeper communication is essential.

It seems to me that as we all go into hustle and stress of year-end holiday activities, more than any other time of the year, family and friends need others to truly listen when they are ready to be heard. Reading between the lines and understanding underlying motives are critical to listening.

I already am thinking about upcoming holiday gatherings of friends and family. Thanksgiving dinner and holiday parties, times when I will be among those I cherish the most.

Will I sit with Mmom, attention undivided, truly listening to her? Be an attentive listener to sisters and nieces and nephew, in-laws and grandchildren, as they all share as much as they wish? Will typical cocktail party chatter among friends enhance our relationship when I truly hear what they are saying?

I wish to think I'll never view polite conversation in quite the same way.


Randy Chapman is publisher of the Post-Bulletin. He welcomes feedback to his column at .

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