SELF-EXPRESSION has become part of the education agenda in recent decades, with the result that children have been encouraged to articulate themselves in ways that might surprise their grandparents. In its opening section, this book argues the case for cultivating the art of truly “hearing” others, because “Eloquence wins far more praise and prizes than its vitally necessary counterpart: the quieter qualities of patient, understanding, self-effacing listening.”
While organisations such as the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation have long promoted listening as potentially transformative for both individuals and communities, there is no doubt that ours is an increasingly noisy world. Attention spans are apparently diminishing — and the idea of focusing on just one thing at a time sounds positively quaint.
While listening comes more naturally to some people than others, it is a skill with wide application, not only for counsellors, therapists, mentors, and spiritual directors, but for simple pastoral encounters between church members or even informal conversation among friends.
Having made the case for the importance of listening, however, the book comes across as three potential volumes in one: first, it offers general reflections on the part played by silence in spiritual development, covering similar ground to Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence (Granta, 2008). Second, it includes material that can be usefully applied in ministry (as also expressed by such authors as Anne Long and Michael Mitton). Finally (and mostly), it reads like a handbook for trainee psychotherapists, citing Jung and Freud as much as insights from scripture.
Its late author, Robin Daniels, was a highly experienced therapist and supervisor of therapists, who also ran marriage-enrichment and bereavement groups for churches. Approached as an opportunity to overhear the musings of a mature practitioner rather than as a title prepared for a target audience (as demanded by the average publisher), this book worked much better for me. It provided context for the bibliography, which is not so much the usual “suggestions for further reading” as a selection of classic texts on a range of subjects.
Such an approach also offers a rationale for the unusual final section, comprising a monograph on Beethoven, specifically his Violin Concerto as recorded by Nathan Milstein with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1955.
The Revd Naomi Starkey is Assistant Curate in the Bro Enlli Ministry Area on the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales.
Listening: Hearing the heart
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