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Learning to Listen

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” These words from the prophet Samuel upon hearing the call of the Lord give us a sense of what it means to listen to the voice of God. 

Samuel’s openness, anticipation, and receptivity to the Lord’s word give us an idea of what it looks like to be ready to hear what the Lord has to say.

What we listen to and how we hear are an important and often overlooked part of our spiritual journey and development. The Lord tells us to “beware of how you hear” (Mk 4:24, Lk 8:18). What we hear and how we hear it can either foster our relationship with the Living God or it can become an obstacle. 

Cultivating an ear for the things of God through spiritual direction can help us to take care of what we hear.

“Take care what you hear.” 

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us to “take care of what you hear,” calling us to be aware of what we let into our hearts and to preserve a special place for the Word of the Lord to grow and develop within us. 

In life, we are confronted with lots of messages and noise and we are shaped by what we hear and let into our hearts. 

The Lord invites us to be discerning about what we hear, to be mindful that what we take in can open us up to the Lord, or it could predispose us to not take in his Word.

This selective listening to the voice of the Lord is revealed to us throughout the Gospels. 

In the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus referring to those who hear the Word of God and keep it as ones who are truly blessed (Lk 8:20-21 ) and the Holy Spirit declares Mary blessed because she “believes in the Lord’s word to her” (Lk 1:45). This call to hear the Word of God and keep it, to allow it to deeply resonate within us and obey it is what draws us into closer union with the Lord.

What do we hear? 

There are things that can unsettle us and undermine our act of faith, hope, and trust. We must ask ourselves: What do we ruminate on and turn over in our heart? What do we continue to listen to?

The disciple of Jesus Christ listens to his word (He is the Word), receives Him, and allows that Word to take root and bear fruit. To take Jesus in, to allow him into our depths, we must cultivate interior silence, places in our hearts where the noise cannot enter. This is what it means to take care of what we hear.

What we allow to come in tends to grow and develop in us and we transmit that out into the world. We can hear and receive the Divine Word which will take root and bear fruit to eternal life. Or we can hear and take in the word of the world, worldly concerns and viewpoints, the anti-words of the Enemy who wreaks havoc with our faith, hope, and love. 

Discernment is the process of becoming aware of what is coming in and where it is coming from, giving us a greater capacity to determine what is the voice of the Lord and what is our own voice, so that we can “take care of what we hear.”

What we take in, we become obedient to. If we are constantly listening to the Word of God, cultivating interior silence and praying, our lives become more obedient to the Word of God. And the Word of God is “performative”. It carries within itself the power of God to accomplish what it promises. The words of the world and the enemy are counterfeit, false promises, and deliver death.

Discerning what we are letting in means also asking ourselves how we frame questions and look at situations. Do we frame things in light of how the world frames them? Or do we frame things from within the narrative of God? How do I “hear” what happens to me in life, the circumstances and situations of my existence, the events of the Church and worlds. Beware of how you hear.

The ones who hear the word of God, keep it, put into practice , and spread it are the Apostles.. They are those who come to the Lord, remain with Him, receive Him and become apostles of what they hear. We can become those Apostles of Christ the Divine Word. Or we can unwittingly become propagators of a worldly message, false promises, and human made utopias. 

The “ultimate object” of our hearing

The ultimate object of our hearing is the Eternal Word of God, Christ Himself. We see a model of this receptivity to the word of God in Mary, who, in the words of St. Augustine, “conceived in her heart before her womb.” 

Mary received the eternal word and obeyed. “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). She is blessed because she turns over these events in her heart. She does not allow these words to escape her. There is a place in Mary’s soul that is stillness. What stirs in her is the word of God. Mary teaches us that the “obedience of faith” is true faith which comes from “hearing” (ab audire).

Spiritual Direction

This “hearing and keeping” of the word of God, taken from Mary’s example, is something we learn over the course of our lifetime. Spiritual direction can be a great aid to this process. 

Spiritual direction helps us to create and hold “the space” for God, neutralizing the background noise so we can listen for the gentle and powerful voice of the Lord. It takes time to learn to listen. And we cannot listen without a life of prayer and “interior silence”. Sacrifice and discipline are important so that the world and the enemy don’t crowd God out. In the end, we don’t interpret God through our own experience, but by obedience to his will (hearing his word), we learn to become less, and detached even from our own past spiritual experience – to become present to the Lord in the here and now. 

Spiritual direction can also elicit a deeper hunger for the Lord within us. It helps us to see what is happening in our lives and listen with openness and expectation for the word of the Lord together with a spiritual director. 

All this means that spiritual direction is a highly dynamic process, not in the sense of false human activism which often is another form of noise, but a true summoning and marshalling of our entire person in obedience to the will of the Living God in my here and now, as He continues to draw me to Himself and sends me out into the world with his Word.

Do you have the desire to help others listen deeply to the Word of God as they navigate the ups and downs of life? Do you feel called to be a spiritual director?

Learn more about the Spiritual Direction Certification Program at Divine Mercy University. 

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