What it Really Means to Listen: Spiritual or Holy Listening

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . . .” James 1:19

Spiritual listenting is a contemplative undertaking and not a problem solving task. It is essentially prayer….Spiritual listening as a contemplative discipline pushes us…to a level of listening beyond our own powers of analysis to the grace and the gift of divine life itself….To listen this way is to listen with the heart and mind and open wide. It invites us to be changed along with those to whom we listen.

Wendy Wright, “Desert Listening” Weavings 9:3 (May-June 1994)

Desert ascetics cultivated a heart engaged in intense listening. Listening for the Beloved’s voice cultivated a wise and compassionate heart, able to yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Listening to the ebbs and flows of the Spirit was fundamental to a life of discernment. A still, focused attention was needed for fruitful discernment. True discernment does not presuppose how the Spirit will move, nor what God will say. In this life of cultivated listening, ascetics were open to the unexpected. They were willing to risk being surprised.

Desert ascetics were deeply aware that their cultural  backgrounds, educations, and life experiences framed and influenced listening…Ammas steeped their minds in scripture and other sacred writings in order to cultivate minds and hearts able to listen for God’s voice. Growth in self-awareness clarified the lens that filtered and colored their listening. The clearness of the prism was the goal.

~ From Lauren Swan’s book: The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women

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