Awakening: Contemplative Listening

Hi Everyone, I pray blessings upon you, that you are experiencing the presence of God in every moment of your days. Now is a good time to be still and let God speak in your heart.

Today’s discussion is taken from The Awakening Institutes class titled Contemplative Listening. This article is directed to Spiritual Directors, but the premise can be applied by any Christian in conversation with another, as they listen for God’s voice in their midst.

Contemplative Listening1

Contemplative listening sometimes called holy listening entails presence and attentiveness. Contemplative listening within the context of spiritual direction can be described as “Soul Inquiry”, as we are truly listening to the soul of the other in interaction with the Holy Spirit. The human soul is a fragile and shy entity. Therefore contemplative listening must be gentle and true. The human soul in the context of spiritual direction is to be held like a little bird with a sprained wing. You want to hold it tight enough that it does not fly away and injure itself, but not too tight so as to smother it. When the soul is held with the reverence of a contemplative ear we are inviting it to speak from a place of deep truth. In a real sense contemplative listening will hear the other into speech, words that will come from a deep inner place. This becomes a sharing that must be honored and welcomed. It also must be received with great humility on the part of the spiritual director, who is privileged to hear the soul of the directee. Soul speech is not to be analyzed or anesthetized; it is to be received from a position of unknowing, and a willingness to learn and be guided by what is being said. Finally, we are to be open to being dazzled in wonder, allowing room for the soul to speak in a manner that will surprise and transform, as we listen for God’s voice spoken through human souls inclined to the divine.

Contemplative listening in spiritual direction thus becomes a way of beholding God in the other, in ourselves, and in conversation with us both.

Beholding the Lord’s presence through contemplative listening entails more than just being aware of one another’s utterances at a purely auditory level. To behold the Lord with our ears is more than hearing, as we must also learn to listen. Failure to hear was a constant prophetic cry in the Old Testament…

And though the LORD persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear NRS Jeremiah 25:4

Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; NRS Ezekiel 12:2

And Jesus said…

"Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"

NRS Mark 4:9; 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35

Connolly and Barry in their classic book titled, “The Practice of Spiritual Direction”, on page 46, states that the first task of the spiritual director is to help “the directee pay attention to God as he reveals himself” Likewise the director is called to listen to how God is being revealed in the directee as well as how God is revealed within the director themselves. Here is a brief example of how the spiritual director may approach their work.

Director to directee:

“What is God revealing to you.”

“How does hearing God speak make you feel?”

Director to self:

“How is the Holy Spirit speaking to me?

“How does this make me feel?”

Contemplative listening is essential to spiritual direction, as it is in direction that we have one person of faith listening to God, as they simultaneously listen to another person of faith who is expressing their experiences of God. In so doing the director helps the directee to listen to their own interior movements, feelings, and sensibilities. An awareness of God’s presence then develops, which allows the directee to listen to how God is addressing those movements, feelings and sensibilities in real time, as they are being experienced. Contemplative listening is a gift of God’s grace that allows us to hear a personally communicating God in our midst. The spiritual director who has developed this gift can then help others do the same. This is true because the primary teleos of spiritual direction is to help others to pay attention to God, to respond to God’s guiding hand, to grow in intimacy with God with God and to fully live the with God life. This kind of listening has always been called for in the spiritual life. The first words of the Rule of Benedict echo the biblical instruction given in Proverbs 4:20.

L I S T E N carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).

First words of The Rule of St. Benedict

Contemplative listening is a way to develop an ear for truth and meaning because it develops a heart that is open to a deeper awareness of God in our midst.

By listening deeply to the message of any given moment I shall be able to tap the very Source of Meaning and to realize the unfolding meaning of my life.

David Stendl-Rast, A Listening Heart, pg. 10

1 Excerpt from The Awakening Institutes five week study on Contemplative Listening. For more details and a free syllabus feel free to email… ,

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