This month we're exploring the practice of "Holy Listening,"with the chairperson of our Discipleship team, Mary Malone.
Not all conversations are about the weather. Sometimes we find ourselves on a deeper level. I don’t know about you, but sometimes in these situations my listening involves thinking that I need to solve the other person’s problem, give some wisdom or insight. My mind races ahead to where the conversation might be going, playing my answer in my head. Meanwhile, although I’m attentive to the words, I’m missing what the person is saying with hands and eyes and heart. There is an old phrase “heart to heart talk”, used to describe a time of real connection, revealing what we are really thinking. Heart to heart listening requires the discipline to still our beehive brains and give full attention. Jesus did that with the woman at the well and offers us insight into the spiritual discipline of this kind of listening.
In her book Exploring the Way, Marjorie Thompson offers steps to discipline ourselves in the practice of heart to heart listening. She calls it holy listening:
- Take a few slow breaths, remembering who you and the other person are in God’s sight: beloved children of God. Invite the Spirit to help you listen well.
- Set aside your own agenda. Give your whole attention to the other person. Ask clarifying questions only if you need to.
- Look into the other person’s eyes with warmth and receptivity. Indicate by your physical posture that you are available to listen. You need not keep constant eye contact, but let it be with an open, loving look when your eyes meet.
- Listen with your heart as well as your head. Attend to the feelings and mood expressed in the other person’s posture, gestures, and tone of voice.
- Remain aware of God’s presence with you both. Breathe little prayers of praise, gratitude, or supplication as you feel so moved in the course of listening to the other person.
- At the end of your time together, thank the other person for the opportunity to hear his or her story, viewpoints, or struggles.
In a recent sermon about relationships, Pastor Jason cited a statistic: for every negative interaction we have, it takes 5 positive actions to put the relationship back on solid ground. When you think about that, you realize how important holy listening skills can be.