Contemplative Listening and Spiritual Conversation:

Contemplative Listening and Spiritual Conversation:

Contemplative Listeningand Spiritual Conversation:Pastoral Care for All God’s PeopleElizabeth LiebertEden Theological SeminaryOctober 11, 2005

ThesisContemplative Listening andSpiritual Conversation are--simultaneously--pastoral care practicesand spiritual disciplinesfor all God’s people

They might not need me—yetthey might—I’ll let my heart remain in sight—A skill so small as mine might bePrecisely their necessity—--Emily Dickinson

“A skill so small as mine might bePrecisely their necessity—”

“A skill so small. . .”

“Precisely their necessity—”. . .and ours!

Part IContemplative Listening

From Ministry to Theologyby John Patton• The listening practice Patton proposedis the same kind of self-emptying thatthe Christian tradition callscontemplation• Why not teach listening from the baseof the spiritual tradition ofcontemplation?

What is Contemplation?

Seeking truth in purity andsimplicity--Richard of St. Victor

Finding God in all things--Ignatius of Loyola

Awareness absorbed andamazed--Teresa of Avila

The pure loving gaze thatfinds God everywhere--Brother Lawrence

A. . .gift of awareness,and awakening to theReal within all that isreal--Thomas Merton

A continual condition ofprayerful sensitivity to whatis really going on--Douglas Steere

A long, loving lookat the real--Walter Burghardt

Answering awareness,Answering presence

Contemplative Listening:The Practices

For All:• Some participation in contemplativeprayer in order to have an experientialsense of contemplation• The ultimate goal: to develop acontemplative attitude about all of life

For the Storyteller:• Notice one’s own experience “close tothe bone,” as free as possible frominterpretative overlays• Be contemplative with one’s own life

For the Hearer-Responder:• Empty oneself of expectations of theother and of oneself• Bracket all inner chatter• Attend as directly and with as muchgentle attention as possible to the storyas it unfolds

• Respond simply to the content and thefeeling tone• Avoid interpretations, probes, advice,or satisfying your own curiosity—at thispoint in the conversation

Why this practice?• A powerful way to signal that we haveheard the other• A way to minimize the “static” thatcomes from seeing primarily throughour own lens• A way to recognize both whathappened and how it feels

“But, is this all there is to pastoralconversations?”•No!• When the teller’s experience is fullyheard by both parties, move to otheraspects of pastoral conversation,including appropriate actions• The way the conversation proceedshas to do with the kind of conversationand the situation in which it occurs• Who is talking and for what purpose?

All conversations can begin incontemplation• If not in technique, certainly in attitude• I want to hear this person, precisely as other,and to hear this experience as belonging tothe other person• To understand the other precisely as other, Imust step “outside” myself, at least for thismoment

For the Group:• Do all that the Hearer-Responder does• Add the task of following the continuingconversation as it unfolds• Stay present to the continually new situationas the conversation unfolds• Formulate new responses in light of the newmoment

Not only this:h-rh-rtellerh-rh-r

But also this:

“Let my heart remain in sight. . .”--Dickenson“Hearing another into speech”--Nel Morton

Wonderful, surprising grace:Communities are formed!– Lives are shared– Trust is built– People are affirmed– All experience grace

Part IISpiritual Conversation

The Spiritual ExercisesIgnatius of Loyola• Writing on the Spiritual Exercises andinterpreting them for women, alongwith an invitation to speak on Ignatianprinciples of conversation• Realizing that Ignatius had foundedthe Jesuits precisely as a group whosecentral work would be spiritualconversation

Central insight• If spiritual conversation could be aministry for a very active religiousorder, why couldn’t it be a ministry forothers today?• Why not for my mainly Protestantministry students?

The thesis revisited• Both Contemplative Listening andSpiritual Conversation are spiritualpractices• Contemplative Listening is the micropractice;it is set within SpiritualConversationContemplative Listening both fostersand is the fruit of Spiritual Conversation

Spiritual Conversation• To speak familiarly with people so as todraw them into greater service of God• Goal is apostolic

Qualities of person andpersonality:• Alertness, prudence and a generallypleasing personality• Deepened by modesty and zeal

Priorities• With too much to do, we must clearout the less important to do the moreimportant• Figure out what is the center of ourvocation and use that for settingpriorities• Goal: freedom to listen unhurriedly tothe other

Use common sense• Learn (listen for) what the other personvalues, enjoys, desires, gets excitedabout• Get to know both the feelings and thepersonality of one’s conversationpartner

The heart of spiritualconversationListening, long and intently

Presupposition [#22]“That both the giver and the receiver of the SpiritualExercises may be of greater help and benefit to eachother, it should be presupposed that every goodChristian ought to be more eager to put a goodinterpretation on a neighbor’s statement than tocondemn it. Further if one cannot interpret itfavorably, one should ask how the other means it. Ifthat meaning is wrong, one should correct the personwith love; and if this is not enough, one should searchout every appropriate means through which, byunderstanding the statement in a good way, it may besaved.”

The Presupposition as theground of spiritual conversation• Mutual: applies to both• Contextual: the situation influences interpretation• Generous: each assumes the best of the other• Disciplined: sincere attempt to see both sides• Goal: for mutually acceptable positions• Correct: only in love and if necessary at the end• Conclude: with something that can be affirmed

In sum:•Presume and search for thebest in the other as the startingpoint for everything thatfollows

Characteristic Image:“Whenever we wish to win someone overand engage him in the greater service ofGod our Lord, we should use the samestrategy for good which the enemyemploys to draw a good soul to evil. Heenters through the other’s door and comesout his own.”(Letter to Salmeron and Broët, Sept. 1541)

Elaborations and Cautions• Ref to SE # 332• Based on I Cor 9:22 “I became all things toall people so as to win all to Christ.”• But can become deceptive, manipulative,paternalistic• Must be undergirded by personal integrity,honesty, focus on the good of the other,clear boundaries, “indifference”

• At its best, it is the skillful use of accurateempathy as a a pastoral strategy• But it is far more than mere technique• It is about being a certain kind of integratedperson who responds to others, alwaysintent on their greatest good

Willi Lambert’s Rules1. Be convinced of the surprising worthof conversation, and thus of theimportance of preparing oneselfwhile recognizing that a reallysuccessful conversation is a gift2. Speak slowly, carefully andaffectionately3. Listen with peaceful attention to thewhole person

4. Come to conversations free ofprejudice5. Rarely, if ever, use arguments fromauthority to trump the other speaker6. Speak with modest lucidity7. Take enough time

Conclusion• Contemplation belongs to all• These practices extend prayer toministry and ministry into prayer• They are simple, powerful pastoralstrategies for all God’s people


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