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Hear the cry

We withdraw to the place where we can be alone.

We savour the silence.

We recall what we have seen.

We probe the images.

We analyse their meaning.

And while we are doing this, we cannot help but hear sounds . . .

At times the sounds intensify and accentuate the visual images. At other times the sounds tell a story of their own.

We focus on the sounds we heard in the course of the day. These may be sounds of nature. I may have noticed the patter of rain drops on my window pane, or the far rumbling of thunder, or a howling wind, or the incessant chirping of a cricket in a summer's night.

We try to remember the sound as vividly as we can. Then we explore its meaning. Why did it make an impression on us? What does it say about reality? What deeper images of being does it convey?

We listen to the sound again to sharpen our sensitivity.

Analysing sounds

The sounds that move me most profoundly are human sounds. By fathoming human sounds I can penetrate into what it is that makes other people what they are, the people who share our exhilarating, and often exasperating, human existence.

And I am not talking, first of all, about what people say. I am talking about the sound itself.

Have you ever paid attention to the sound of anger? Have you heard a man yelling his fury in a bout of unrestrained outrage? Just listen to the tones, the vibrations, the shouting and screaming.

What does it tell you? What feelings resonate in yourself as you hear the sound? Observe the will power, the conflict, the frustration. Take note of the unspoken assumptions. Become aware of the mix of arrogance, brutality, anxiety, helplessnes perhaps. It will help you detect the shades of anger and layers of frustration concealed in many things which people say -- even if they do not express these feelings equally forcefully.

And what about music?

Aldous Huxley used to say that, after silence, music comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible.

Have I heard a piece of music that really inspired me? Why did it touch me so deeply? What did it tell me about other people? The composer Giuseppe Verdi recorded: "When I am with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joy are too much to bear".

Each one of us has his or her own sorrows, loves and delights. How are we to share the universality of such feelings? Music is one powerful means. Through music we feel the sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope and love that belong to all of us, in all times and all places. If we probe music, we touch the mystery of human existence.

Whether we recall the voices of people as they spoke to us, or whether we re-live a piece of music we heard, or whether we remember voices speaking to us over the radio or on TV, we gradually become aware of the fact that other people are calling out to us.


Underneath most human communication we can hear a cry.

Often it is the cry of suffering.

We consider suffering such an ugly and unwelcome aspect of life that we rarely face up to it. When we meet it in others we pass it by. We may read about it in the papers or watch reports on disasters and famines out of curiosity and responding to its sensational edge.

But do we really hear the cry?

Though they may live in a far away country, they are human beings like us. Do we really identify with their fears, their sorrow, their despair?

And what about people nearer home?

Are we able to hear their cries of suffering? Or do we close our hearts to them?

There is so much suffering in the people we meet: loneliness, disappointment, confusion, anxiety, physical pain and quiet despair.

When we penetrate this layer of reality in our prayer of 'interior listening', we cannot fail to feel a response in our heart. It will help us to be much more sensitive next time when we talk to people. It will make us look at news reports with greater empathy. It will strengthen our desire to do more for those whom we can help.

It will also make me aware of a deeper question: Who is really talking to me in this network of communication that surrounds me? Are they just other limited beings like me?

Or is it the Origin and Cause of everything, the Reality we call God, who is speaking to me?

The more attentively we listen, the more we discover unsuspected depths.

Nature has a cosmic breath. We call it wind.
At times it is silent.
But when it speaks, it creates angry howls from ten thousand openings.
Have you never heard the roar of a gale?

Think of a mighty forest on a slope.
Its huge trees have holes and cracks
like a myriad snouts, mouths and ears,
like gouges, goblets and mortars,
some holding puddles in their grooves.

The sound of wind rushes through
like a torrent,
whistling, mooing,
howling and moaning.
Hissing notes,
then a roaring chorus.
Deep rumbling, then the wail of a flute . . .

The music of earth sings through a thousand holes.
Human music is played on instruments.
What makes the music of heaven?

Chuang Tzu

What am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Alfred Tennyson, 'In Memoriam' 54

Poor, weak and insignificant
a woman though I am,
I can hear the sound of passion in a girl's blush,
the sound of energy in a budding twig,
the sound of keenness all around me
from the living lights that shine in the celestial
the sound of prophecy in deep sermons,
the sound of promise
in people who commit themselves,
the sound of blood being poured out
by those who offer themselves in faith,
the sound of the priestly mysteries
being celebrated,
and the sound of the virgin's steps
on the heavenly greenness of flowering things.

For faithful creation echoes back to
the heavenly Creator
its voice of exultation and joy,
returning fervent thanks.

But I also hear a sound
like the voice of a great multitude of people
who resound in harmony
with the cries of those
who have lost their way . . .

Hildegard of Bingen, German mystic (1098 - 1179)

What you should do

This week, when in your sacred space, add 'hearing the cry' to your 'inner seeing'. So these are the steps:

  1. Withdraw into your inner self through silence.
  2. Recall scenes you saw during the day, things that struck you.
  3. Reflect on the implications of what you saw, on dimensions that lie hidden underneath images.
  4. Then notice the sounds. What are they saying to you? Can you decypher the anguish, the appeal, the cry?

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For the video clip from "The Seven Circles of Prayer" we obtained permission from the copyright owner Housetop. The text was taken from "Stepping into the Seven Circles of Prayer" by John Wijngaards who is also the author of this course; illustrations are by Alison Conti.

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Silence Space Seeing Suffering Touching Listening Encounter