Bible Reading Fellowship £7.99 (1-84101-269-6) Church Times Bookshop £7.20
AT a time when different
factions in the Church across the world are expending energy on making their
voices heard against those who disagree, it is good to read a calm, moderate
book on the art of listening.
Michael Mitton writes out of
his international experience with the Acorn Christian Foundation, the healing
organisation that has, under the guidance of Anne Long, always placed a great
emphasis on the healing power of listening. This book is not an instruction
manual, but rather a reflection and meditation on the way that Christian
listening in different places and cultures can change lives.
The book is interwoven with a
story from South Africa about a Western expert on AIDS, whose human
understanding of the disease was gradually changed by his having to listen to
the stories of individuals affected by it. Transformation is a theme constantly
repeated in the reflections in the book. People want to be loved in the sense
of being heard rather than having all their problems sorted out. In that kind
of love there is healing.
Nevertheless, the act of
listening can involve dealing with strong emotions on both sides, and this
might explain why it is not practised as much as it might be.
Writing from an Evangelical
perspective, Mitton courageously faces two particular areas of vulnerability in
this tradition. The first is a tendency to believe that, because one position
is right, then the other must automatically be wrong. The second is a belief
that proclamation of the Good News must be powerful.
The listening approach gently
qualifies and restates both these positions, because it deals with the reality
of people rather than positions and principles.
The words to describe this
book might be “powerful gentleness”. Its power lies in the way in which
Mitton explores with the reader issues of painful reality, loss, sickness, and
the ecological threat to our world. At the same time, his faith allows him to
hope that, in all the midst of these issues, the Christian can still provide a
God-centred listening presence that can bring hope out of pain. Christian
listening can indeed be a point of transformation for a broken
The Revd Stephen Parsons is Rector of St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh.
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