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Listening without paying attention

Listening without paying attention

. 1 min read

The kids and I are in the middle of the most charming read aloud--The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street--in the story, 5 siblings play a game called "listen without paying attention." The game is simple: you close your eyes and listen without thinking about what you're listening to; once you do that, you begin to notice things, sounds from near and far your brain filters out mechanically, and an entirely new soundscape emerges around you.

We started doing this when we walk to the pond every morning. We sit on the bridge and listen without paying attention. From the woods around us, we start to hear the difference between the cicadas and crickets and bullfrogs. We hear dragonflies buzzing nearby our ears, then out over the water. We hear different birdsong, distinct and repeated, a duet. Was that the slap of a beaver tail? The low rumble of planes on an approach vector to Hartsfield-Jackson. Sometimes we hear the car of an aunt or uncle leaving for work. Wind through the trees. Noisy crows calling, strident and demanding. After a while, someone wiggles and we all open our eyes and compare notes. We never hear the exact same thing. We're starting to learn birdcalls now, because we're curious--burning with it, actually--as to which of our neighbors sings to one another every morning. We always strain to listen for the barred owl, even though we know he only calls in the late afternoon.

When I pray like this--prayer, in the best sense, should be listening--when I pray in the same way that I listen without paying attention, I notice more. I notice my own internal soundscape. The background noise, the nuance, the arrivals and departures, new songs I don't know yet. I'm learning who I am and am becoming when I am still and take notice. I'm learning what God sounds like--he's quieter than I expected. Subtle. Less like the crows and more like the wind.