Monday, November 23, 2009

Just listen

Listen more often to things than to beings. These are the opening lines of a song that my small group of a cappella friends and I have sung, possibly hundreds of times. The song, called Breaths, is inspired by a poem by Senegalese poet Birago Diop and reminds us that the dead are not under the earth; they inhabit the fire, the woman's breast, the rocks, the crowd. And we are to listen. To hear them. I've been giving some thought to this idea of listening. Unlike seeing or tasting, listening, it seems to me, is an act of engagement. Something is 'speaking' from within or without, and as we tune in, so we listen. I 'listened', without conscious intentionality, when I crossed onto Scottish soil for the first time four years ago. Scotland is the cradle and burial ground of all of my ancestors, and I was curious at that sense of a call 'home'. What surprised me was the potency of my response. I felt it in my very cells. Something was speaking to me; I in return was listening. Listening as an act of communication has been further highlighted for me by reading Martin Buber. He writes of the I-Thou dialogue, which is expressed in both spoken and unspoken ways when we truly connect with another. It lies at the heart of the ongoing Divine conversation; it is also, he believes, a way in which we can meet with one another. Can we aspire to listen more deeply and well? Or do we simply allow it to happen? Perhaps I need to forget the questions, and, as the final echoing line of the song says - just listen ... just listen ... just listen.


  1. In Bill Manhire's lovely poem Opoutere about Michael King, he says something about memory being all of us listening. I don't have the poem in front of me to give you the exact quote but that's the substance of it.... Thanks for your lovely post. I think musicians are always great listeners....

  2. Thanks Mary. I love that idea. I didn't know the poem, and I look forward to finding and reading it.

  3. Here's the exact line from Opoutere. It's in Manhire's collection 'Lifted'.

    'What is memory but all of us listening?'