Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
Question 129 from the Heidelberg Catechism (revised version) says the little word “Amen” means: “This shall truly and surely be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”
The image this brings to me is of a patient parent listening to a child who is asking for something that is exactly not what the child needs. Listening is a spiritual gift. Most of us hear but fewer of us actually listen.
In the church we often don’t know what to do with a lack of noise. Silent prayer, times of reflection and centering, and pauses of words can seem like little eternities. We become aware of our own breathing, the ticking of our watch, and the beating of our heart. Then eventually you start to realize you can hear others breathing, the building creaking, and maybe even the birds outside.
Presbyterians are not Quakers. We believe in the power of words and thought. We place a high value on a good sermon. Receiving all of those syllables should make us good listeners. But how well do we listen to the little words, the small stories? We live out this faith in the communities we call church. In a community listening, really listening, is a path to a deeper relationship.
In the Gospels we have the actions and words of Jesus. In Mark 9 we have another story of the disciples arguing about who was the greatest. They won’t tell Jesus this. He hears it in their silence. He responds by taking a child into his arms and saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mk. 9:37).
Let us say “Amen” to a God who listens. Let us learn to listen as a way of welcoming each other and creating a community of people who say “Amen.” Let us say “Amen” to stories great and small.