Growing up, I did not know much about King Solomon, but I did know that when he was anointed king of Israel, God invited him to ask for anything that he wanted and it would be granted to him. Sort of like a biblical version of the genie emerging from the lamp. I can picture my elementary school religion teacher in the front of the room laying out all the options: He could have asked for treasure chests full of gold or all the candy you could eat or a summer full of trips to the amusement park. But Solomon, she said, asked for wisdom, which she then explained meant that Solomon wanted to be good at school. And this pleased God very much.
I wonder if a good part of my life was not indeed shaped by this story, for I wanted to please God very much and I saw trying hard at studies to be a way of doing that. Looking back, I don’t really have any regrets. A life of study is a lovely thing. But, of course, this is not at all what this story from 1st Kings is all about. Solomon never actually asks for wisdom. He asks for something more difficult to translate. He asks for “lev shomeya”—a phrase comprised of two Hebrew words. “Lev” meaning heart, though it can also mean mind. And “shomeya” based on the Hebrew “shema” – to hear. In essence, Solomon asks for a “hearing heart” or a “listening heart.”
And while a life of study hopefully helps cultivate this capacity, lev shomeya communicates something simultaneously much broader and more specific. Solomon didn’t want to be a good student; he wanted to be a good leader. He knew as king he would need to make constant difficult decisions that would affect the lives of his people. He wanted to be able to discern well, and in order to do that he knew his leadership had to be grounded first in listening. I reflect some on this theme here (preaching for Feb 5).
It strikes me that Pope Francis has grounded his leadership in listening. The current “Synod on Synodality” really is a call for the whole church to ground itself in lev shomeya. My own parish in Atlanta has really been doing an amazing job setting up listening sessions, especially for those whose voices might not otherwise be heard. I hope that your parish is doing likewise. If your community is having a hard time figuring out how to get started with a process there are a wonderful set of resources on the Synod and listening available from the National Leadership Roundtable.
Other things in the hopper:
- The free parish discussion guide for #Rules_of_Engagement is now available, just in time for Lent (though of course, it’d be a great book discussion at any time of year!) You can find it by scrolling to the bottom of this page.
- Mid-month my family will be participating in our annual pumpkin bread baking extravaganza in honor of my mom who loved baking pumpkin bread for her neighbors. If you would like to join us in baking pumpkin bread for your neighbors to lift winter gloom, I’ll publish her favorite recipe in my next newsletter, so stock up on the canned pumpkin and sugar and stay tuned!