Annual Session 2018

Radical Listening, Rooted in Love

It is a powerful discipline for the “listener” to try to listen without agenda, ... abandoning the need or desire to appear knowledgeable, wise or comforting. There may be no more tellingly difficult spiritual practice than the effort to receive what is being said by someone else hospitably, without editing, without correction, without unsolicited advice. Yet it is this open listening that makes room for the Spirit of God to be present ... --Patricia Loring, 1997

In times of crisis and discord, human instinct urges us to curl inward, to retreat into the familiar. Yet our faith tradition calls on us at precisely these moments to stand still in the Light, to open ourselves; for we know that without opening, rifts deepen and become fixed. At such times being rooted in love helps us surrender our defensive posture and step outward in an act of radical listening. Paul Tillich (Justice Power and Love) said, “In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen.”

Listening deeply and unflinchingly to the spirit within, and in each other, can unlock a revolutionary love and uncover unexpected possibilities. Listening deeply to those who experience systemic injustice, as well as to those whose values seem antithetical to our own, can crack open our comfortable assumptions. Listening deeply to ourselves allows us to examine our biases, our fallibility, our own complicity, and to accept our own humanity. From this humble position, we can ready our hearts and ears to truly listen to another—to “lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear” (Mark Nepo). When we open to the humanity of a speaker, friend, or stranger, then we can see the other in us.

  • What makes me reluctant to open to the other and listen?
  • To what extent do I open myself to the risks of listening?
  • How have I been changed by deeply listening to another?
  • How does my own perception affect the way I understand what others say?
  • How has loving and listening opened me to living my faith joyfully?