March 23, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Lenten thoughts on listening and hearing

Shirley Vogler MeisterWhen others discovered that he was eavesdropping, actor Don Knotts said in an old episode of the television show “Three’s Company” that “I don’t pay any attention to what I hear when I listen.”

Knotts, also remembered as Barney Fife in “The Andy Griffith Show,” died last year. As fans know, Barney was also known for his habit of eavesdropping in TV’s “Mayberry” series.

In a film, The Spirit is Willing, Sid Caesar, who died in 1998, played a father who said to his son, “There’s so much noise in the world today that sometimes a fellow has to yell just to be heard.”

I am not comfortable yelling. In fact, one time at a grade school baseball game in which my grandson played, his mother, my daughter, Diane, seemed shocked when I yelled with the crowd. I even surprised myself. Normally, I don’t like shouting crowds either so I rarely attend rallies.

One time years ago, my husband and I and another couple went to a German festival near a mall. The food and music were great. People were happy. Then the band leader asked the crowd to follow his instructions.

This was musical fun—and funny—until he asked everyone to stand on his or her chair. Paul and I and our friends remained seated. Most others, even older persons, did as they were told. This made me very uneasy, especially when our friend, a psychologist, said evenly, “Now we know how Hitler could accomplish what he did.”

I’ve never forgotten that when I see large crowds—or mobs—on TV, whether shouting assent or dissent.

We must be peacefully discerning as to what we are told to think and to do, and Lent is the perfect time to center ourselves and better understand our role in any listening situation.

However, hearing—truly hearing—what others have to say is a part of our American freedom as long as we do this respectfully.

What we hear in our homes, at work or recreation, during public performances and, most of all, in church, affects our personal reactions, which are integral to our well-being.

How we hear others is especially important in personal relationships, especially our spiritual connection with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as well as the angels and saints. Lent is the perfect time to listen and hear.

About a dozen years ago, I saved a “Family Circus” cartoon by Bil Keane, which makes another point. The father is resting in a comfortable chair, reading the paper. The son is nearby trying to get his Dad to pay attention to him. Then the son says, “You hafta listen to me with your eyes, Daddy … not just your ears.”

Remember this when interacting at Mass.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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