The Endangered Art of Listening – Johnny Go, SJ

John 1:35-42, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the First Reading today, we have the somewhat charming story of young Samuel who mistakes God’s voice calling to him as coming from his master Eli. After being roused a third time from his sleep, Eli realizes it must be the Lord and directs Samuel to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

When I googled this line, here’s what I found:


Now, I suspect the artist who came up with this design probably meant that we should put our headphones on for the Lord–so we can really listen to Him and hear Him. But this image also reminds us of something too familiar in our world today–our dependence on technology and all the noise and distraction that unfortunately go with it.

I’m the last person who will push for a ban on technology. Technology brings numerous benefits–even and especially in the fields of education and religion, but it’s important to use it with eyes–and ears!–wide open. I had an A-ha experience last week when I downloaded an app called “Moment” to monitor the amount of time I’m on my smartphone, and I discovered–both to my surprise and horror–that my daily use averaged six hours! Assuming 16 hours of awake time, that’s over 1/3 of my waking hours!

One of the endangered species of such a heavy reliance on digital technology is silence–which is, whether we like it or not, a necessary condition for listening. The world simply constantly offers too much information, and our lives are just too cluttered with activity and distraction for silence to occur naturally. This death of silence puts one essential social skill very much at risk: listening.

How many times have you, for instance, caught yourself in conversation when instead of really listening to the person speaking, you’re actually already formulating your response–or worse, you’re thinking of something else! It’s not your fault. It’s the natural consequence of living in an environment that is constantly filled with stimuli and distractions.

To make matters worse, it isn’t just silence and listening that are at risk. Our very sense of the sacred, which is anchored on these two, is in danger as well. Blogger Andrew Sullivan, reflecting on what he calls his “distraction sickness,” wrote the following: “The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.”

Perhaps one of the messages of today’s readings is to examine how much white noise our lives suffer from. Can we make more room for silence in our lives? And can we exert a greater effort to listen–not just to other people, but also–perhaps more importantly–to ourselves and to God?

Perhaps like me, you need some kind of digital detox. It may be time to design a digital Sabbath into your life?


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