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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


"When life comes to a grinding halt, it is the one who listens that can bring healing and perseverance....Sometimes we have so much pain that we cannot hear ourselves." –James Finley

Certainly the healing and therapeutic element of listening is clear, going back to Freud's early days when he simply called it his "talking cure.” And yet listening still remains an elusive art form that few truly engage. Who wants to listen? There’s much more interesting things to be doing. And, more importantly, who actually wants to share? Deep exposure and vulnerability is a bit of a hassle.

Finley shares Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, found in Mark 4:3-8. I’m sure you, Readers, are informed: Jesus talks about seed that is planted in all sorts of bad soil (planted on rocky soil, in the weeds, on the road, etc.) and seed that is planted in good, fertile soil. To no one’s surprise, the seed planted in fertile soil grows and bears fruit. This parable is, in fact, quite unremarkable. Everyone knows that seed planted in bad soil won’t grow and seed planted in good soil will grow. It’s obvious. Jesus tells us what we already know.

Why does Jesus tell us what we already know?

Well, interestingly, as simple and clear as this parable is, the disciples didn’t understand it, and they approached Jesus to explain!

Finley believes that Jesus’ teachings were deceptively simple. And that the point is to attune to this simplicity. The disciples were looking for the “deep truth” to be revealed by Jesus, the spiritual guru. In fact, all they needed to do was to attune to what is obvious.

To listen.

The different types of soil represent our capacity to listen, to hear the word. It represents our ability to be present and to attune.

“Every verse of Scripture is an invitation to listen more deeply to life.”

“Deep listening comes from love….love teaches us to listen.”

“God loves to listen….God is infinitely who we are.”

“If we open our hearts to listen, we manifest our true nature. When we listen we learn to be like God.”


Melody said...

Well, honestly, Jesus is out there telling them about farming, and that's it, ya know? No explanation, no "seed equal gospel", "soil equals people"

I mean, if you were at church...or listening to Mr. Finley or whoever and the fellow starts talking about farming, you know: fertilizer and combines and gravity wagons, and that's where he starts and ends - farming...don't you think YOU might wonder what the point was?

Anyway, that's besides the point, but I just think it's easy to scoff at the disciples when we have Jesus' explanation two verses away.

Moving on to that explanation: I can't figure out why you (or Finley) think the problem is a lack of listening...all of the soil types seem to have heard.

I mean, look at the stony ground people, they're psyched! Lot of good it does them, but for a while they're flying high.

Jesus doesn't say that the good soil type was the one that listened best, in His description all of the soils heard. But about the good soil He says, "But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit"

Clearly hearing would an extremely important first step, but Jesus seems to assume that the people are hearing.

samlcarr said...

Melody, I'm with you on this one. But I do think one has to wonder whether the so called "explanation" actually clarifies anything?

In any case, listening does not seem to be the issue, so Jon's comments are rather an allegorical offtake on the good old muddily clear parable...

Melody said...

Well, it clarifies that Jesus isn't just super interested in farming.

He's talking about how different people react to the gospel.

It's sort of open ended - everyone hears, but different people react differently. He doesn't tell them what that means, just that, that's how it is.

amy said...

I don't think Jon denied that, of the different soil-type people, the good-soil people were the only listeners. He said that the different soil types represent different capacities for listening.

This is an interesting point, and it may imply the irresistible nature of the truth to which the good-soil-type person listens: the greater our capacity for listening (the greater the health of our soil), the deeper we will take in the word (seed) and the more fruit it will bear.

Does the fact that each of the four types of person heard the word necessitate that they all listened to the word? Sometimes, I think, simply hearing (and even understanding) the truth does not mean that one will internalize that truth and that it will bear fruit within and through the person.

Just a thought.

Melody said...

When Jesus is talking hearing seems to mean listening - he who has ears let him hear - I know it's fun to differentiate between the words, but I don't think Jesus was.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I think that the idea of "listening," as Finley talks about it, involves more than just hearing the words, and even more than just understanding what was said. It means being able to tune in at a deeper level, that whole "let he who has ears to hear" type of thing. There is a deeper, contemplative listening that leads to transformation.

I think there is also a sense of openness and humility. Jesus used ordinary experiences as a teaching tool, in this case an agricultural metaphor. But as Finley says, these parables are "deceptively familiar." They seem so simple that it can be easy to miss....or they may appear simple but may be intended ambiguity.

For simple parable to take on a deeper, transformative meaning, a closer contemplative listening seems to be required.

tamie said...

This post inspired me to look up the notes I took on James Finley's talks.

What I got from Finley's account of the parable is that Jesus points to the real world--a farmer, the soil--and says, "Listen to this," and then he proceeds to say something completely obvious. Who doesn't know that seed that falls on rocky ground won't grow well? Who doesn't know that seed that falls on good soil will grow well? Especially to Jesus' listeners, nothing could be more obvious! What I understood Finley to be saying is that Jesus is pointing us to the concrete particulars of our lives (not to theological abstractions) and is saying "listen deeply to your very lives." Live fully present to the soil, the seeds, the rocks, the sun....not as metaphors for something else, but as the real, precious world that is our sustenance and joy.

Yes, the concrete world does have things to teach us about spiritual truths, but the spiritual truths aren't separate from the literal truths. I do think that Jesus cared about farming, soil, etc., not just because it gave him fodder for parables, but also because farming and soil are such a profoundly important part of human existence. I mean, I'm guessing here, but I feel like the guess is a good one, given how much Jesus seemed to care about people's real-life situations, actions, participation in the community, etc.

Enough from me for now!

Jonathan Erdman said...


That's a lot of what I have been trying to express. Well said.