The Craft of Sacred Listening
The Craft of Sacred Listening
1. Listen before speaking.
Allow the person who is speaking time to complete their thought; wait a few seconds before responding. Ask “Is there anything else?”
2. Listen to yourself.
Be in touch with your inner voice. Ask “What wants to be said next?”
3. Listen with an open mind.
Be curious and appreciative of what you are listening to. Listen for new ideas instead of judging and evaluating.
4. Listen for understanding.
You do not have to agree with what you hear, or even believe it, to listen to understand the other person.
5. Listen with empathy and compassion.
Put your agenda aside for the moment. Put yourself in their shoes.
6. Listen with patience and presence.
Listening well takes time and your full “listening presence.”
7. Listen in relationship.
Let the speaker know that you are listening. Use body language: nodding, facial expressions.
8. Listen with reverence to the Divine in the other.
Every person is created in the image of God. Listen with humility.
9. Listen for the Spirit at work in the other.
Listen for the Spirit who touches the soul of the other “gently, lightly, and sweetly, like a drop of water going into a sponge.”
10. Listen for Jesus who may seek me through the other.
The friendship Jesus offers is communal—one vine but many branches. Jesus may speak to me through the graces of another.
Prayer for Listeners
Dearest Lord, companion on the road, voice in the night, here we are, gathered to listen. Open our ears, our whole being, that we may become a listening presence to each other, that we may enjoy the gift of our spiritual conversation.
Give us the generosity to listen with openness
the wisdom to understand what is heard
the strength to be changed by what is shared
the listening that never judges
the curiosity of a child.
Increase in us the peace to forgive and be forgiven
the reverence to honor both gift and loss
the acceptance that allows failure to be shared
the prudence to know when not to speak
the surrender that treasures silence after word.
Enliven in us the freedom to let mystery be
the joy to celebrate new discovery
the readiness for laughter when it rises
the grace to listen with humble love
the awe to hear you speaking in us.
How to Guide Sacred Listening
Silence creates the space for listening. Silence also allows one to simply be, simply be in the now, simply be in the presence of the other. Contemplative silence is simply being in the presence of God. Similarly, contemplative silence can found in the presence of a person or a group of people. Good spiritual conversation starts with silence and then moves to listening in silence.
God is trying to tell this to Job, “Pay heed, Job, listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. If you have anything to say, answer me; speak, for I desire to justify you. If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom” (Job:33:31–33).
Then take your receiver through the Practice of Scared Listening above, with examples from the experience of reverent listening that you both have. Then, it is a matter of practice. Ask your receiver to practice sacred listening at home, at work, with family, friends and strangers, and with you in the retreat or following a spiritual exercise.
God explains to Isaiah that to listen is to receive life, that listening is like eating, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food, Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live” (Is 55:2–3).
There are three stories from biblical relationships that break open sacred listening. They each tell different truths. Three points follow each story for you and your receiver to ponder.
Speak Lord Your Servant Is Listening
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” (1 Sam 3:2–11)
Point 1. Samuel sleeping in a sacred place yet does not know the Lord.
Point 2. He is called by name three times, a voice both mysterious and intimate.
Point 3. He takes a humble position for conversation, a servant listening to his Lord.
Mary has Chosen the Better Part
Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (Lk 10:38–42)
Point 1. Mary is in a listening relationship with Jesus. Quiet, receptive and focused.
Point 2. Martha is in a serving relationship with Jesus. Annoyed, closed and distracted.
Point 3. Jesus affirms Mary has chosen the better part. The work of listening comes first.
The Sound of Sheer Silence
The word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1Kgs 19:9, 11)
Point 1. Elijah assumes that the Lord will come in great displays of might.
Point 2. But the Lord comes in the sound of sheer silence.
Point 3. Now Elijah is really listening. He comes out of his cave. A conversation begins.
Please note. The Golden Rules for Spiritual conversation in the FSE Cloud Community are a combination of Sacred Listening, Spiritual Comversation and First Discernment. These may suit you better in understanding or for teaching your receivers.
Please note. For greater depth in giving the FSE and guiding Spiritual Conversation see the Manual here.