Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Listening by heart

I am helping facilitate a retreat soon about spiritual companionship and, particularly, listening. That’s what speaks to me most right now about those rooted alliances.

In “playing” with ideas of how to actually emulate that listening as opposed to just discussing it, I think I may try out some activities this week on the children I regularly teach on Sundays in what we call First Day School.

They are usually game for anything. We even attempted lectio divina – an ancient, sacred reading of Scripture when you pause and deeply ponder the words and what may be between them for newly inspired meaning – that I felt was wildly successful.

I had encountered some doubt when I mentioned trying it with children among practiced adults, but I knew these kids would get it. I chose a passage about Jesus and children, hoping they could relate. At the end of the reading/meditation, I asked them to be still in their chairs and feel Jesus’ touch. They and I were mesmerized as they basked quietly in that embrace before I broke the spell. It’s an image I won’t soon forget.

I really feel like we don’t get enough practice or instruction on deep listening. In the era of soundbites, facebook and IMing, when would we?

I do know listening is one of my gifts and must have known it early on as I became a journalist. Of course, the writing appealed to me, but hearing and sharing others’ stories was the real reward. It was an honor to be the steward of those.

I could listen on multiple levels that pushed real meaning from a story, not just the facts, because that’s what I wanted to hear. One of the best tricks I learned was to faithfully conclude every interview with “is there anything else?” Often, that’s when the real story flowed.

In listening by heart, as I like to call spiritual attentiveness, I have had to retrain myself to NOT jump ahead to the next question or thought and not to question at all. Sometimes it’s only about listening. Obviously, we can’t turn off what the words spark in us, making us connect to them. Nor should we. The goal in this kind of endeavor is not to fix, give advice or relate our experience.

The goal of spiritual listening is to open ourselves to the words and experience of another – something for which we all hunger. This kind of listening we can practice anytime ... not just in a spiritual context. Try it; I think you will be richly rewarded.

[When we know we will also have a chance to share, the listening is easier. When it is all one-sided, it can become a task. It doesn't mean we stop someone midstream or that it is always even, but we should all be given the chance to share.]

• When was the last time I felt really listened to?
• How did that make me feel?
• When was the last time I really listened?
• To another?
• To nature?
• To Spirit/God?

Open my heart

that I may hear

not just the words

but what you,

dear Spirit,

are saying

in and through

this being,

this creation


  1. Thanks for sharing Cathy.. So many moments to listen in a world where people hurt inside.. i spent today with lots of folks who can't speak due to medical conditions.. (trached/vented). some wrote on boards, others used hand gestures, one spoke so softly that i had to strain to hear and guess at some of the words .. it can be work to try to listen..but when the eyes meet.. there is a soul connection..i love it!

  2. aren't they lucky to have you and I'll bet you feel the reverse is true ... thanks