Running the course Discerning Listening with a great group this winter has seen us exploring how a discerning listener might function well. This is about
- an ability to listen deeply, attentively to the whole person
- an ability to notice the spiritual movements within what is shared
This requires a stance that is poised and open, giving space for the depths of the other to emerge.
As part of the course a demonstration role play was done showing how giving space to someone and simply seeking to pick up consolation and desolation can enable profound personal spiritual awareness to emerge. The reflections of the group after witnessing this included a significant surprise at how effective this was. It was refreshing for me, having run this programme numerous times, and therefore familiar (even perhaps overfamiliar) to be reminded by their reactions of the power of this approach.
That evening I watched Gareth Malone in Aylesbury prison and was powerfully moved by the resonance between the Discerning Listening approach and Gareth’s approach shown in the programme. His ability to really pay attention, take seriously the unspoken in the prisoners he worked with offering encouragement and a trust in the creative potential in them was very moving. It struck me that he exhibited many of the qualities of a good discerning listener or spiritual director:
- Offering an openness to the other, being warm and friendly and sympathetic without being smothering or soppy
- continually believing that those who he encountered might be creative and be able to sing and contribute to the concert
- never pushing, rather accepting when they withdrew or declined to respond
- encouraging and listening, and drawing out words that had never been articulated and came from deep within revealing deep desires in people
The effect on the prisoners was so moving to witness. Their faces were transformed – by their experience of being listened to, being encouraged to give voice to their inner hopes and needs, by being taken seriously.
I found it thrilling to witness the power of listening and creative expression in giving hope to young men who had so much that was going against them in life. I can only pray that all my work in encouraging deep listening has similar impact and that the transformation of lives is supported and continues beyond the moments of encounter into the rest of life.