Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Mary Ellen Plumb OSB on Listening

“And now you know the rest of the story.” 
And so, Paul Harvey ended each episode of his radio program in the late 70s, The Rest of the Story. This popular broadcast consisted of anecdotes presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of topics.

Too often, in our fast-paced, instant information, “breaking news” society, the facts and topices come poring in. And inundated by so much so quickly, we make snap judgments, form rapid opinions, demonstrate mindless reactions before we come close to discovering “the rest of the story” on just about any topic. 

And we tend to do the same with the individuals we encounter in life. 

Which means we often miss their “rest of the story.” Which means we often make, and maintain, assumptions that cost us the wisdom and insight our souls crave. Which means our hearts stagnate at superficiality instead of stretching toward our best human selves, our full capacity for compassion and empathy, patience and depth.

The Rule of Benedict, we know, begins with that single, haunting word: “Listen” and goes on to invite us to listen with the ear of our heart. In the living of that invitation, over years, I have come to learn that listening is a rare art form, a talent acquired only slowly and with steady, loving attention, the spiritual equivalent of “the rest of the story.”

Joan Chittister, OSB puts it this way, “We must learn to stop our own lives, to be silent long enough to listen, to hear the cry of the other, to attend to someone else’s needs, to hear the anguish of their hearts, which is at the center, the very core, of compassion.” 

Has anyone ever said to you, in frustration and pain, “You’re not listening!” When is the last time you cried, or thought, the same about another? When is the last time you listened truly, sincerely, with full attention to anyone's "rest of the story?" When is that last time someone listened with loving attention to a your "rest of the story?" Without imptaience, without distraction, without irritation for as long as was needed? 

Choose one day soon and dub it a listening day. In every encounter, in every task, in every leisure moment all day long – listen, really listen.

And decide if listening, really listening, made any difference at all. You may come closer than you realize to “the rest of the story.”


Mary Ellen Plumb OSB is a staff member of Monasteries of the Heart. 

Does listening, really listening, make any difference at all for you? Explain.

Please share your reflections with us here.

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