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A HEART TO LISTEN: Becoming a listening person

02 November 2006


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 world.  


The Revd Stephen Parsons is Rector of St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh.


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