“[T]here is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above and below, note, read. God whom you want to discover, did not make the letters with ink; he put in front of your eyes the very things that he made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?” Augustine of Hippo
Listening is a foundational human activity, and it demands more than meets the eye, or ear. Our ability to listen is threatened today by several factors, not least of which is the audio onslaught we experience. There is so much to hear that we tend either to gorge ourselves or simply shut down and stop listening.
Perhaps the better move is to do as we should with food: limiting fluff eating makes space for healthy eating, and healthy eating lessens our craving for fluff. We can exercise discipline and regulate our listening for the sake of health of mind and soul.
My wife listens to audio books while doing hand work. I want to find hand work that lends itself to such simultaneous listening. But Augustine takes us to a new level, pointing to a sort of ultimate audio book. Having no letters of ink, this book speaks to us, he says, of the most important things and with a loud voice.
Yet experience shows that volume alone is not enough. Unless we clear the airwaves and tune in, even a loud voice is usually lost on us.
We won’t be able to listen to this book, or any book, all the time. Limitations of schedule, and of our senses and mental attention prevent it. But opportunities for listening abound if we take them. This is perhaps the best reason to prioritize certain kinds of leisure and work in the natural world. Here are two examples.
1. Go for a walk and/or sit on a bench with the intention of listening to what nature says. In this time we might have turned on an audio book, but rather we consciously ‘turn on’ the book that is always streaming. ‘Nature’ here is not some abstract object; it is the concrete creatures in our view-shed. A voice is emanating from them. Picture just sitting and trying to discern what it is saying as you sit there.
2. Do work in lawn, garden, or woods with the intention of listening to nature–again, in the concrete objects. Such listening is not a distraction from our work. Rather, we can learn to listen in and through our work. This can purify and enrich our work, even opening it to better methods and fruits. Picture planting a seed, pulling a weed, pruning a limb, or sanding a board and trying to discern what it is saying as you do so.
We can learn to work with such a ‘listening’ attitude. It’s as though we put on the ultimate ear buds. Yet unlike with ear buds, there is no separation from what is going on around us, but rather a harmony, a being-tuned-in to the astounding fulness of creation.
With my own eyes I have seen such men at work and at leisure. They show that this great book is there for all, and they inspire us to become better at listening to it.
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And a Reminder to PLANT GREENS NOW!:
And a Reflection on INDIVIDUALIZED ATTENTION for our children:
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