Continuing on in my ‘musings’ on spirituality, I have been looking at my history of experiencing and practicing spirituality and the evolution and transformation of it throughout the last quarter of a century. I have grown from a black and white (rigid) understanding and interpretation of what it means to be led by the Spirit towards a more tolerant, compassionate experience and view (grace-filled). Over the years I have become less arrogant that my way is the right way, much less even “a” way. I have come to taste and see that the Spirit is indeed like the Wind – blowing wherever it wills and not as I will. For who am I to judge the Spirit’s leading and intention? I am called but to submit to the Spirit’s leading, and this through prayer, wise counsel and my history. But the truth of the matter is God can work in any way God sees fit, and can obviously do so without any input from this particular painted soul.
And what the Spirit has been teaching me these days is summed up in one word: listening.
Listening is one of the indispensable foundations of spirituality (and spiritual growth): listening to God, to our hearts, our fears, our pain, our joys, and to others (especially the cries of the broken and marginalized). Spirituality (and spiritual growth) can and does occur in solitude, but for them to flourish deeply they must grow in relation to another – in community. And I truly believe that all community begins with listening…listening to a call from the Other (God) Who leads us to others who either share in the same call or are the recipients of the call.
Listening is closely aligned with obedience for in its original meaning ‘obedience’ means to “hear or listen” and in the New Testament, the word used for ‘obedience’ means “to trust”. So obedience, listening and trusting are all connected and this comes from Love; for I can truly only listen and trust those whom I love. So for me to ‘hear’ God I must grow in trust, and the more I trust, the more I listen, the more I listen, the more I trust…with God and with others.
Listening involves mutuality as well; in order for me to be listened to it must be in mutual relation to another be it God or people. It is in this mutuality (that grows from listening) that our deepest spiritual moments can occur. For in order to be listened to, I must be ‘telling’ someone my story. Knowing someone will listen without judgment and knowing that someone can tell their story knowing it will be heard is the power of movements like Alcoholics Anonymous. For it is in the mutual listening and telling – the story telling – that our struggles become shared and therefore lessened, and healing begins to occur.
Those of us who are wrestling with spiritual dilemmas and awakenings do not necessarily need answers but ‘presence’ – the permission to confront the dilemma, struggle with it out loud knowing we will be heard, and find solace in defeating our sense of aloneness. This is one of the paths to God, to others, and to healing.
Listening begins and deepens our spiritual experiences: it affords us the space and silence needed to empty out our pain through storytelling and mutuality and their find God, grace, and each other.