In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, you will hear God. Then you will know you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.—Mother Teresa
One of the treasures in my life is the ability to lose myself in a song. Closing my eyes and allowing the words and music to play through me—to stop listening with my ears and listen with my heart. As the music washes over me, my mind relaxes, my breathing slows, and I quietly drift into unexpected places of creation. This is the sacred discipline of deep listening, of being spiritually attentive through the hearing sense.
The purpose of every discipline, ritual, sacrament, and especially prayer, is to awaken us to the presence that is already there. The practice of hearing is sitting quietly long enough to let go, allowing the external sounds to pull me inward, rather than trying to follow them with the activity of my brain. As my listening moves inward, I become a kite, waving my coat of many colors in the sky, journeying up and down and all around, making dancing shadows on the ground below.
No longer am I listening with my ears; my heart has taken over … imagining me unfettered by the trappings of old stories persisting in my mind. Through listening, I flit about aimlessly, dancing and skipping, weightless, forever carried to new heights by the ever-present unseen. This kind of hearing is really about total surrender of the self to God, Spirit, Presence, the Universe that is already giving itself to us and working through us, if we only listen for the “words” beyond the external words.
Centuries ago, monks read Scripture out loud so that they could really be listening to it. They would choose a phrase and sit with it, repeating it aloud over and over so that they would be open and receptive to its meaning. They let go of the conscious mind and practiced hearing the words repeatedly in order to expand their capacity for knowing God and being that presence in the lives of those around them.
The old-fashioned guidance systems to keep airplanes on course during flight might help us to understand the art of listening to the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the pilot is on course, he will not hear anything on his headphones. If he veers a little to the right, he will get a beep. If he goes too far the other way, he will pick up a different signal. By correcting his course, his headphones return to silence. In the moment-by-moment process of daily life, similar indications of being on or off course are available.—Fr. Thomas Keating
In living this practice of listening for Spirit, we are given new insights for everyday life experiences, and we become more compassionate, responding with love, praise, and gratitude. Listening is a peace practice. Meditation and prayer, in any spiritual tradition, encourage us to be disciplined in our practice of being silent and hear the “whispers” of the Divine if we want to live more peacefully in the world.
Listening is the beginning of peace. For in listening we are brought face to face with our inner wars so they can be healed. Peace begins when we expand mind and heart and listen to the noise within that needs quieting. Now we can hear the wisdom that awaits us in the silence. Only then can we become truly peaceful and only then will we understand ourselves, and therefore understand another.
When we listen, not with our ears, but with our whole being, the activity of spirit is brought to life, and it is just as real as the sound of howling wind or the clap of thunder during a storm or the music washing through us. This ever-present reality can only be reached through listening, and our only response to what we hear is to be the presence of God in manifest form.
Peace begins by cultivating this practice, and if we can live in that practice, eventually it becomes our way of being. Then practicing and living peace are inseparable. Then we can leave our world with a legacy of peace. Peace begins when we are willing to be still in the silence, sitting with our sufferings and our joys, listening to what the spirit is trying to teach us. Slowly, through our spiritual sense of hearing, the sheer awareness of the divine presence in our lives becomes more alive, overflowing into our ordinary, everyday life.
- As you listen to music, what words or melody captures your soul’s attention and imagination? What are you hearing?
- How does what you hear in meditation connect with your everyday life? What feelings or images come to life?
- Take a moment and listen to the sounds around you, wherever you might be. What do you notice? Are they interrupting your day or are they blessings?
- What sounds in your life are a call to prayer, to being in the Silence? How would you describe them?
NEXT: The spiritual sense of seeing, looking for the divine presence, is our next spiritual sense heightened through our prayer practice.