I offered the following as formation in Benedictine spirituality at our Benedictine Women of Madison Board retreat on January 23, 2020. It is based primarily on Joan Chittister’s chapter on listening in Wisdom Distilled from the Daily.
Benedict, following Scripture, puts great emphasis on listening as the way to find God. Benedict begins his rule with this verse in the Prologue: “Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” What is especially significant to note here is that the voice we listen to is from onewho loves us. We listen as one who is beloved. We listen with a lover’s heart.
Later in the Prologue, Benedict writes: “Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God and our ears to the voice from heaven that everyday calls out this charge: ‘If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts.’” Here we learn that we can expect God to call to us in the daily circumstances of our lives. We believe God can be found in everything. Sometimes, however, our hearts are hardened by past experiences and conditioning. Then, compassion for ourselves and others can soften our hearts, so that we can hear more clearly.
Benedict wants us to listen to Scripture, to ourselves, to others and to the world around us. In Scripture we hear stories of how God engages with people and how people have perceived God in the daily events of their lives. We hear about the struggles and joys people have in following God’s movement in their lives. Benedict calls this listening, “lectio divina,” “holy reading.” Here we listen for what touches our hearts. What moves us? What connects with something in our lives? What is the message for us today?
In addition to listening to Scripture, we are called to listen to ourselves, to our feelings and needs. What message lies behind our feelings? To what needs are they pointing? We listen to our bodies to learn how to care for ourselves. We listen to the patterns in our lives. What message is our life trying to tell us when we repeat the same pattern of behavior over and over?
Benedict also calls us to listen to each other and to the world around us. This is what we are doing in the Listen*Imagine*Create process. Benedictines know we need the wisdom of others. Listening to others and to the world around us is how our community has moved into the future. Taking Benedict’s admonition to heart, we seek other’s input as we discern the way forward.
Benedictine spirituality is dialogical. We listen for others’ feelings, needs, hopes, longings. We listen from the other’s point of view and learn to hear in the tongue of the other rather than through our perceptions or projections. Then, we respond. In Latin, the words listen and obedience come from the same root. Listening is not complete without a response. Listening with open hearts to Scripture, to ourselves, to others and the world, changes us.
To listen in this way we need silence, time for reflection, solitude, attentiveness or mindfulness. We need the inner freedom to respond and humility and trust to be able to open our hearts wide.
Joan Chittister notes that this call to listen has implications for our life together. First, we are called to do everything with counsel. We listen to the opinions of others and take advice from those with more experience and wisdom than we have. Secondly, reflection is integral to our growth and our way of acting. We take time to reflect on the experiences of our day, on how we have been moved and challenged, how we are called to respond. Finally, this call to listen tells us that life is a learning process. We learn through reflection on our experience, through failure, through the discovery of truth, and the cultivation of beauty. Everything is included.