I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes the resolutions made on January 1st have dissolved by January 31st. This New Year’s Day, however, I want to return to Benedict’s injunction in his Rule for Monasteries.
Many authors have pointed out that Benedict’s first bit of instruction in the Rule is to listen: “Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice” (RSB, Prologue). As happens throughout the Rule, it appears that Benedict’s inspiration here is scripture: “Listen, children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight” (Prov. 4:1).
When I think of someone who could listen with “the ear of his heart,” I think of Nicodemus, whose story is told in the third chapter of John. Nicodemus was a Jewish leader and member of the Sanhedrin, the religious tribunal. He had many reasons not to be seen with a controversial figure like Jesus and came secretly to him by night with a burning question about the source of Jesus’s power.
Jesus did not give him a predictable explanation or one that was easy to immediately understand. They had a long conversation in which Jesus said to him, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” The Greek word for ‘again’ also contained a root that meant “from above.” In other words, eternal life—a life of the Spirit—begins with transformation, being born from above. Evidence of Nicodemus’s transformation came from his later defense of Jesus during his trial in the Sanhedrin and then claiming Jesus’s body for burial in the family tomb.
Deep listening, then, can lead to transformation. Where could I learn to listen “with the ear of my heart”? First, listening to God. Like others, I suspect, my prayers tend to be long on requests and short on listening. I’ve got to be more regular in my practice of contemplative prayer, as Cynthia Bourgeault defines it, “simply a wordless, trusting opening of self to the divine presence.”
I could do a better job of listening to the Holy Spirit, as she speaks to me in scripture and those I come in contact with.
I could do a better job of listening to my spouse.
I want to listen with the ears of my heart when I talk with others, especially those who are hurting.
As a New Year’s resolution, listening would be a good choice, a goal that would certainly lead to other positive transformations in my life.
- Translation from Joan Chittester, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages. (New York: Crossroad, 2009), 19.
2. Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2004), 5.