The Best Listener

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Psalm 116

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of
my supplication,
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever
I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

4 Gracious is the LORD and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

5 The LORD watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

6 Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the LORD has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD
in the land of the living.

9 I believed, even when I said,
“I have been brought very low.”
In my distress I said, “No one can be trusted.”

10 How shall I repay the LORD
for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’S house,
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.


There’s a difference between listening and hearing, and being a good listener is one of the most powerful gifts a human being can possess. I hear a lot throughout the day, but I selectively listen to what I consider meaningful. If I am listening carefully to another person, that action should enable me to step through the doors of her heart and to come away having learned something new about each of us. But there is also the idea of being “heard,” which can mean, among other things, being listened to respectfully and having had one’s concerns taken seriously.

To be fully heard is to feel that one matters. The psalmist in today’s verses loves the Lord because he has heard his voice and his “supplications.” That the Lord “inclined his ear” offers the beautiful image of God bending down to listen. He does not provide the specific reason for why he cries out to the Lord, beyond saying that he was in death’s thrall and felt the pangs of Sheol; but the Lord is always fully engaged with the psalmist, who at that moment is the most important person in the world, and which is why the author will return to the Lord for as long as he lives. When something works for us, we keep doing it.

God not only listens, but acts, by extending compassion, graciousness, and protection to the psalmist, as well as to us. At times the psalmist has been dismayed, and written off others as “liars.” But where there is faithlessness and affliction, the Lord is unchanging and always ready to listen and to save. Our repayment for God’s abiding goodness is in fulfilling our vows to him and in expressing our gratitude.  Even in death and in our feelings of abandonment and anger at the death of loved ones, God is close. He will never abandon his “faithful ones” when they die, and this knowledge should comfort us. When we need to be heard, let us go to our best listener.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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