Thinking Anew – Never too busy to listen and learn

Half listening to RTÉ Radio 1 and washing the dishes at the same time in early July, I heard the presenter talking about someone finding a crumpled box of tampons on the ground. I stood at the sink for a moment and asked myself why did I have to listen to this nonsense.

I changed over to BBC Radio 4 where they were talking about the German writer Bertolt Brecht. That certainly was some difference.

I still recall a wise comment made by Gay Byrne: people were phoning into RTÉ objecting to some item that had been mentioned on his radio programme. In that clear distinctive voice of his he simply said that radios had on/off switches and if someone is not happy with what they are hearing, they can so easily switch off the radio. Profound and it makes great sense. When the Bertolt Brecht clip was finished I turned off the radio.

Tomorrow’s Gospel is the well-known story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). Martha does all the work and Mary sits down and listens. There’s need for work and activity, and so too is downtime an essential part of our lives.


Last Saturday, I travelled on the 7am Heuston to Cork rail service. I’m something of a rail anorak and enjoy travelling by rail. But there is a special magic about an early weekend morning train in Ireland. I was in the leading coach with just two other passengers in the coach. It was quiet, with a faint sound of the wheels rolling over the continuous welded rail underneath. We travelled at 137 km/h between Ballybrophy and Thurles. Maximum speed on the line is 160 km/h or 100 mph.

While there were clouds in the sky, the fields of Tipperary were looking beautiful. Farmyards, cattle, horses, a field of cut hay, all came into view and were left behind. And it was all so quiet. The fields exuded some sort of extraordinary quietness. The ditches and trees, and not a word to be heard.

I’m inclined to say such an experience brings us very close to heaven. These days it’s almost cliché to say we all need to take time out. It’s important that we retreat from the frenetic hustle and bustle of our lifestyles. And on the flip side of that we have this idea that it’s cool, modern, urbane to be busy and then to talk about how busy we are, complaining, but most likely bragging about our hectic work schedules. It’s “important” people who are always busy.

And then the wonderful tale in tomorrow’s Gospel. Jesus, who is God and man, tells the busy and distracted Martha: “You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed...”

He goes on to tell her that Mary, who sits at his feet, listening to what he is saying, “has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.”

I’m not by nature a contemplative person but some days before that rail journey I had the great good fortune to listen to a wise and prophetic man talk about the all-conquering power of God’s love for me, for all of us. That set me thinking. It has stopped me in my step, and every quiet moment I can steal gives me an opportunity to think, maybe even to pray about God’s love for all of us.

The fields of Tipperary, even from the passing window of a fast moving train, give one a chance to do just that. Seize the moment. Carpe diem.

Tomorrow’s Gospel, though written so long ago, offers such a wealth of wisdom for the times in which we are living. So much wisdom, and what it boils down to is ordinary sound advice right in front of our noses, and we so easily miss it.

It sends me back thinking of the love of God. Isn’t it exciting and challenging? Ignoring or worse dismissing it out of hand seems to me akin to removing the beauty and wonder that is right in front of our noses.

As the morning train moved through Munster’s green fields, I also spotted the trees, their majesty, their quietness. They were a silent reminder to me to notice and admire what is all around us.

Their gift to me is a resolution to listen more to the Word of God and to those who talk and live God’s love. And there are hints of it to be seen and experienced everywhere.