> The Privilege of Listening

The Privilege of Listening


By Sister Kathleen Osbelt OSF

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4-9)  This prayer is called the Sh’ma, a prayer well known to our Jewish brothers and sisters. The word Sh’ma in Hebrew means “to listen.”

Pat Marrin wrote in his October 31 NCR column, “Pencil Preaching,” that a rabbi who visited his parish commented that Christians seem to pray by telling God what they need and want. “The Jewish prayer begins with the word ‘listen.’ We first listen to God,” he explained, “and this puts order into our relationships with everyone and everything: God, creation, ourselves and our neighbors.”

Near the two entrance doors to Francis House, the home the Sisters of St. Francis sponsored for those who are dying is a mezuzah

holding a piece of parchment inscribed with the Sh’ma. The mezuzah honors the custom of attaching a mezuzah to doorposts of Jewish homes and helps our Jewish friends feel welcome. But every time I enter Francis House and touch the mezuzah, it reminds me that I am entering a sacred place where my main task is to listen; listen to our residents, listen to our volunteers, and listen to our staff members. This listening is a prayer and very much connected to Jesus’ command: “Love your neighbor…”

To listen is to graciously allow someone’s reality to enter us and, in the act of embracing that person’s words, we embrace that person. When we listen with our hearts, understanding and trust ensue. These are the foundation of a relationship. It is quite a privilege to sit at the bedside of a dying person and listen to that person’s fears, hopes, gratitude or interests. This is a special experience that I have had for over thirty years, but I pray that I don’t miss the opportunities I have each day to bless those around me, at home, in a store, at a restaurant… by truly listening.