«CIB Sept 2014 Rome Sr. Aquinata Böckmann, OSB Introduction To be in tune with the title, at the beginning I will quote Esther de Waal, who writes ...»
LISTEN WITH THE EAR OF YOUR HEART!
CIB Sept 2014 Rome Sr. Aquinata Böckmann, OSB
To be in tune with the title, at the beginning I will quote Esther de Waal, who writes about this first verse of the Prolog. “I could
never have imagined that a practical handbook and guide for community living would have this most loving, warm, accepting opening, which addresses each one of us personally. It at once promises that the individual is not going to get lost in the crowd, nor get tied up in juridical structures. ‘Listen’ is an arresting word meant to catch my attention. It is admonition, exhortation, to arouse or awaken, to pierce the heart, to challenge. ‘Listen!’ I could take that as a summary of the whole of Benedict’s teaching. … plunges me at once into a personal relationship. It takes me away from the danger of talking about God and not communing with him. Here is a person seeking another person in a dialogue.” And Esther de Waal wants to answer with all her being: “Here I am” (Prol 18), but she also knows that this is the grace of the God who has addressed us personally. 1
- Could we see in the whole Rule of Benedict that it is about a personal relationship of someone interested in us, accepting and loving us, and that the organizational structures are a consequence of this?
Humanly speaking, it seems to me that all of us have the desire to be listened to with the heart. At the beginning we may ask ourselves: “Do we have some experiences, where we had the feeling: the one we were communicating with, was totally intent on us, and listened in depth?” From my own experience I would like to enumerate three persons who stand for this attitude: Karl Rahner, who also reinforced the listening by putting one hand behind his ear; Dom Helder Camara, who in five minutes had grasped what I had to ask, and I felt totally understood; and finally also a retreat-master whose interviews lasted generally less than 10 minutes: but he had the capacity to listen so attentively that the retreatants felt everything important had been said. Maybe here or during the next short pause it would be a good idea to write the names of some of those listening persons we met. Was it always a long dialogue?
Most of us have to listen often, especially to the Sisters, but also to other persons. Experiences of this kind can make us aware that listening with the ear of our heart is not a matter of time, but of attitude and may be of intensity.
This title “listen with the ear of your heart” was given to me. It is a contraction of the two first lines of Prologue 1 in the Rule of Benedict. I will look at first at these two lines and see what is important to them, comparing different translations.
Secondly I will go through the whole Prologue (compared with Benedict’s immediate source).
Thirdly I will very shortly mention the semantic fields of eye and ear in the general context of yesterday and today (philosophy and theology).
The fourth paragraph is built on the word “audire”, “auditus”, auris” (to listen, to hear and ear) in the Rule of Benedict (again against his immediate source).
Then I will leave this circumscribed field and go deeper into the situations where that listening and its answer are depicted in the Rule of Benedict (par. 5) and also see at the end (par. 6) what could have been heard and said with a non-listening heart, hoping that this last point would help us to formulate questions or opinions. Very often from the opposite sight, the positive intention becomes more evident.
In this sense the conferences will end open-ended.
1. Taking a close look at Prol 1a
1 De Waal, Esther: A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, Collegeville 1998 Í will read the Latin text and then some different translations:” Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui ». The “RB 1980” has: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” The more literal translation of Doyle runs: “Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart“. Holzherr in his edition is a bit free: “Hear and heed, my son, the master’s teaching and bow the ear of your heart.” Another one (De Dreuille) has: “Listen, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of your heart willingly”; and Kardong: “Listen,
o my son, to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart”. In an inclusive language Wybourne says:
“Listen carefully, my child, to the teaching of the master and bend close the ear of your heart.” All tried to express well the Latin word “obsculta, ausculta” into English; mostly it is translated with “to listen”, as it is in harmony with our title, but also “hear and heed”, or “harken” (McCann), and Wybourne with “RB 80” add: “carefully”. Looking over the translation we can feel the endeavour to express a very intense listening and its importance. - The next nuances are with “inclina aurem tuam” (Latin). “Attend to them” (“RB 1980”) does not seem as strong, as to “incline the ear of your heart” (Doyle). Someone says: “bow” the ear (which might sound strange), and one adds “willingly”, taken from the next line (this is of course presupposed), or “turn to them”, which seems to me a weak translation. Another one says: “bend close” which makes the meaning clear. Inclining is in any case about bowing in one direction, one cannot do this in two or three directions at the same time; it implies an effort, underlining an important direction, and at the same time an effort to come close. It has also the assonance of humility, you do not listen from above, so you go down. The one talking to you is over, above you. And love plays also its part. The fact is that the inclination of our ear is not a natural situation. Putting “willingly” at the end of this expression indicates that it is not an imposed attitude but voluntary, we could say: with all our will or with love. The only one who translates exactly the Latin “O fili mi”, is Kardong with “o my son” thus expressing also the emotional tone of the verse which is given in the original text. But strictly speaking, here we are already outside our exact theme, which does not mention explicitly the person hearing and speaking and also not what we hear. So our theme is broader.
Some might wonder why it is not the ears (Plural) of our heart. The original text and the translations speak only of one ear, and not of the head, but of the heart. Maybe we are so used to it, that we no longer perceive that it is a quite unusual picture. Generally we speak about the ears in the plural. We have one mouth and two ears. I learned something during a seminar I gave in Korea, where we could not communicate so much through our words but through pictures. And to the question what listening means, one group had drafted a monk with one big hear. At that time, this was new to me. So I asked why they had given him only one ear. They explained that this was part of their tradition. So often the sounds and words enter into one ear and leave us through the other ear.
But if there is only one ear, the incoming word does not have this possibility and must go to the depth of the heart (or also dye). It falls into the midst of the person, its centre! The heart is the vis-à-vis of the word. An existential decision is made. – All translations are agreeing to talk not about the ears but about the ear in the singular.
Our title “Listen with the ear of your heart” contracts the first two lines, and it drops to what we should listen to, maybe purposely letting it stay uncertain and at the same time, making the listening broader and underlining mainly the attitude of listening. The Prologue says that what comes to us as voice, are the precepts of the Master, the admonitions of a kind Father, or Christ’s words.
One thinks at first maybe of Benedict’s words, but he only wants to reflect the words of Christ, who is also Father. The title of this conference leaves out also the description of the one who has to listen. So we can address it to all of us.
We remember the time, when at table reading we took the indicated passages of the Rule for each day (it presupposed the reading of the whole Rule three times a year). At the beginning of the New Year we were confronted with this “Listen!” which made it clearer that we should take it as a norm and guideline for the whole year.
As it has been shown so often, the word “obscultare” has its root in the Wisdom literature of the Bible. This makes it clear that listening implies also the carrying out (obedience), practically it entails a whole lifestyle! In Prol 1 according to Benedict it is not a vague listening to something, but to a word of a loving Father or to precepts, leading us the way to our goal. The human person is called by God, named by Him. God’s action always precedes ours. On our side the first thing to do is to be receptive. And the word “incline” rightly adds to it the humility before our great God and loving Lord. We do not just stand or sit, immobile, where we are, but we incline with expectation the ear of the heart to the direction from where the word comes. And surely we walk also our steps into this direction.
Here we can refer again to Esther de Waal: a word from a loving, warm and accepting person is addressed to me personally, and it implies a personal dialogue and relationship.
The whole Rule ends with the word ”pervenias”, “you will arrive”. This confirms Esther de Waal’s intuition: Listen – and you will arrive at the goal. All what our heart desires! And in between we go the way to this goal with an emphasis on listening to our guide.
2 – Importance of listening, hearing in the Prologue (It would be good to take the text).
As a second approach, I want to deepen the word “to listen, to hear” and its weight in the Prologue. Especially this introduction to the whole Rule, the Prologue, emphasizes very strongly the listening. As a whole it is an oral exhortation or invitation to listen to the divine voice. This is the voice of the Lord Christ. Already in the beginning three conditions are clarified: we have to be willing to carry out what we heard, we have to forego our self-wills (literally translated), and finally the listening with the ear of our heart can only happen if with most earnest prayer we beg that the Lord himself does it. - The following verses underline one attitude: we have to obey (parere) with the good gifts he puts into us. In this sense, the listening with the ear of the heart is one of his very precious gifts.
It is not our merit. It would entail: the Lord addresses an imperative to us: “listen, incline the ear of your heart”, and saying this he has already prepared in us the capacity to do it. The listening and doing is a decisive attitude in the monastic life.
One paragraph (Prol 8-13) is very intensive in regards to the vocabulary of hearing and listening. We are so to say sleeping, and the voice wakes us up (Prol 8f). The daily divine voice cries out loudly like thunder. “Today when you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” V. 11 goes on: “and again who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (V. 12). “Come, my children, listen to me” (V. 13). The whole paragraph wants to motivate the person to listen very carefully, not only now, but every day.
It is important, that Benedict himself adds something and puts into the middle of this little section that the divine voice shouts daily:
“Today when you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”. In his immediate source, the daily divine voice cried out, what Benedict mentions later in V. 11: “He who has ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the Churches”. Benedict took the V. 10 from the invitatory Ps 94(95),8, and inserted it here as divine voice which cries daily, and we listen with thunderstruck ears. “Today, when you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” “His” voice is evidently the voice of the Lord Christ, and he shouts to us daily through the psalm, and wants to reach the ear of our heart. When that word “today” resounds in the early morning, our ear is like thunderstruck;
the verse is like a trumpet which shakes us and awakens us. We remember that Benedict wants the Ps 94(5) sung as invitatory every day in the Vigil. Now it is up to us how we behave. We should be open in the most interior self, which is our heart, and take in this voice, which includes also the whole psalm. We become aware that it is an important and existential admonition at the beginning of each day. The Lord is the rock of our salvation, a great king; depths and heights, sea and dry land are in his hands; and he is our creator, “we are the flock of his hand.” It is really a loving voice, which reaches our ears, and a mighty one. It wants to penetrate our ear of the heart. But just being confronted with love we are sometimes tempted to close our heart. This psalm verse describes it as hardening of the heart, making it like stone, letting all that comes slide off. We do not want to be stirred up. The heart can be hardened through laziness, through pride or refusal of changing something. Maybe somebody fears the consequences of what is heard. These possibilities exist in us as they existed in the Israelites, as the psalm sings. So it is crucial to listen with the ear of our heart, not only with our exterior ears.
Our – maybe exterior – ears are struck like with thunder. But the inner ear is able to listen to the message contained in it. Surely we need confidence and love to decipher the message of God’s power and love. But we have to unveil our heart before him, to lay it bare and naked before this loving Lord; then he can act. We are servants, humble creatures, benefiting from the powerful goodness of our Lord, and now making a good use of this kairos (a special point of time).