Learning to listen extends far beyond our political divides, however. Christian McEwen has written a poetic and profound book titled In Praise of Listening. McEwen weaves together a vast amount of literary and spiritual sources, science, and personal stories to challenge us to listen to our world, one another and ourselves with more depth and precision.

Listening, she argues, is a way of being present. It is what we long for, yet what we so often lack, distracted by all the media around us, all that noise that pretends to be communication. “All too soon, not listening to other people becomes not listening to the larger world, and ultimately not even to ourselves,” she warns.

In a beautiful chapter titled “The Beloved Voice,” McEwen says, “Hearing is the first sense to develop in the human fetus, as it is the last to depart the dying body.” It is the mother’s voice that is first heard by the unborn child, and this voice becomes a lodestone for the infant. “The vocal nourishment that the mother provides … is just as important to the child’s development as her milk,” she quotes one expert as saying.

For all of us, McEwen argues, being heard is what we hunger for. It is so obvious, yet today we seem constantly to need to learn this anew. It is striking that when many survivors of abuse are asked what they want of the Church, so often it is to be heard. To hear is to recognize, to acknowledge.

McEwen’s book is an aural and soulful exploration of our world, contemplating the importance of listening to the world around us — plants and animals, even trees and moss! — as well as to our fellows and ourselves. While McEwen’s style would be best described as “spiritual but not religious,” one senses she is tapping into the wisdom of monks and sages, but also the wise women and men today who know the art of listening.

In a chapter titled “The little sounds of every day,” she quotes a cook, Alice Cozzolino, who talks about listening and focus as a part of her craft. We moderns suffer from “the addiction to the instantaneous,” but Cozzolino says, “that’s the antithesis of listening. Listening requires us to take a breath. It requires us to pause.”

McEwen ends her book with a simple quote by Brenda Ueland: “Listening is love.” It is what every spouse knows, what every child knows, what Pope Francis knows. It is what our world needs to learn once again.