Book Review

I read "The Listening Heart" by A. J. Conyers. It was complicated reading for me but full of wonderful nuggets. Here are some excerpts with short comments. Read the last comment to bring home the deep beauty of his words.


To be modern is to exist increasingly in a state of distraction. Our attention is drawn away from those things that have been placed in our care, away from the center of our apparent concern to something abstractly related to that concern, and thus away from God himself who is the center of all things. To be modern is not only to find ourselves thus distracted, but to justify that life of distraction.

He uses the word “attention” to focus on vocation. Vocation being something that we are called to not something we choose.


In many ways talk of “progressive ideas”, or “lifestyles,” or choices—notions that supposedly require “courage,” a substitute for “right and wrong”—is the most debilitating and dehumanizing of the marks of modernity. It means little more than that one must join in or be left behind. While its rhetoric is like that of Kant’s, one of freedom and courage, it actually narrows the choices of an individual to the meaningless, renouncing his moral judgment in favor of the impersonal stream of historical progress.

This reminds me of the progressive progress I experienced in Seattle years ago.


Talking of “power”: It has the further advantage of not having to appeal to the affections and the will of members of society. It short-circuits the cultivation of the human spirit, and compels instead the cooperation of people through the agency (at one level or another) of fear.

The delicate balance between leading and forcing.


He was speaking of a certain idea of a “body” made up of living members that became, in their union with one another, a new living body. All the members in this case “participate.” Their joining together does not diminish but enlarges their life. Just as it is “not good for man to be alone” it is a very good thing for people to be joined in community. Yet that which joins them together is other than that which constitutes a law or a regulation of that relationship; and when the focus shifts too severely from the dynamic which joins them to the form that regulates them, the result is more death than life.

A great description of the tension in church over religious formalism and legalism versus the liberty of the spirit.


We are “called” together. That is the sentiment that recurs whenever communities come into being and whenever they abide, prosper, and develop, as it were, a beautiful life together. The church is understood in that way. And it understands itself as the type of the true community. The metaphor of “vocation,” with the same linguistic root as “voice” or “vocal,” implies that greater reality to which we respond, one of a personal nature, who summons us to a time, a place, an association, a circumstance, or to whatever characterizes a given community.

Are we shopping for a church or responding to a call from God to be a part of a church?


Natural law that arose from and was strengthened by a natural theology gave rise to human rights that were eventually seen as secular. These secularized rights freed the individual of obligations to any natural association—the family, religion, friendships—only to hand him over to the will of his benefactor, the modern State.

Its all about me, divorce is OK if it benefits me.


The life-forming question is not “What shall I make of myself?” or “What do I want out of life?” It is more nearly, “how shall I enter wisely and profitably into the life in which I find myself?” It is natural, of course, that this view of life should take on a religious character….When it is expressed in religious, or even theological ways, it is expressed in terms of “vocation.” No other term so well captures the sense that we are bidden into a world that we did not make and cannot therefore fully comprehend. It resists the delusion that we are “masters and possessors” of even the infinitesimally small portion of the universe that we happen to inhabit.

To see God’s hand on me much as Joseph did despite the unfavorable circumstances he found himself in, yet he chooses to “serve” in Potiphor’s house and the prison.


In truth, individuals, even children in a family, feel liberated from the restraints of family and local institutions, and they are all the more subject to manipulation by markets and government agencies who often find the authority of families, for instance, to be highly inconvenient in the pursuit of a given agenda.

The destruction of the family as an end times ingredient.


So the dissolving of institutions once considered essential to social order (and by most people they are still likely seen in that light) often proves to aid in larger designs to “organize” commercial and governmental enterprises. And the larger aim, then, is still that of undergirding and strengthening the organized, over against the natural.

The biblical future is: one world government, one world economic system and one world religion.


The term “vocation” stands for all of those experiences and insights that our lives are guided by Another, that we are responding not to inert nature that bends to our will, but to another Will, with whom we might live in covenant relationship, and to Whom we will be ultimately accountable.

Vocation is linked to hearing from God.


Instead, attention means the overthrowing of “vain imaginations,” the disposal of a self-centered view of existence. “To give up our imaginary position as the center (of the world), to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of the soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence.”

It’s not about my will, but His will.


A certain school of medical thought, I understand, teaches that pain relieving medicine actually retards the body’s capacity for dealing with pain. If that is true, it certainly parallels the social effects of not facing painful truths. Society prefers the narcotic of refusing to face painful situations believing that, by refusing reality, it is affirming life. The post-Christian West has been, for half a century at least, binging on “life-affirming” philosophies.

“He whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”


Quoting Walter Percy: It is the century of the love of death. I am not just talking about Verdun or the Holocaust or Dresden or Hiroshima. I am talking about a subtler form of death, a death in life, of people who seem to be living lives which are good by all sociological standards and yet who somehow seem more dead than alive. Whenever you have a hundred million books about life-enrichment, you can be sure there is a lot of death around

Life on the outside death on the inside.


Those in Christ are “one” in that they receive differences as gifts in the overall unity. They are not “the same” in the sense of a democratic leveling that instinctively fears that differences will inspire envy or suspicion. But they are one in that they all have a transcendent loyalty. They are each called to a higher destiny, and that is altogether different from finding unity in a lower common denomination.

Responding to God’s call on our lives allows us to live the abundant life that Jesus has for us.


Only when members of a community understand life as a response to a large and generous world, created by a great and merciful Providence, will the possibilities of life together become more fully realized. Otherwise, without this spirit infusing and animating a people, existence is reduced to competing forces, clashing at twilight, grasping whatever is left of power, fame, and fortune, before the darkness descends….But with this spirit of vocation, this conviction that we are not, after all, our own, but belong to Another, the world opens up, becomes a place for others, and is illuminated by a spreading and abiding hope.

The author, A. J. Connors, wrote this book while dying of cancer. He died a few days after submitting the final manuscript of this book to the publisher. This last quote was read by his brother at his funeral. Reading this at the end of the book added so much weight to the words I read in the book.


About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
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