Listening: The Heart of Spiritual Direction

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

The biblical word that is often translated as obedience is hypakoē in the Greek, a word whose root is from the verb which means to listen attentively.

This is what makes discernment so crucial, because we hear many voices and many words and it is not always easy to know which are God’s. Some of these words are our own, others those we inherit from our culture, still others from our personal stories, wounds, past traumas. And God’s word may speak through these words, but God can also issue forth a new song previously unheard, at the periphery of our spiritual-auditory landscape.. So we sift through all of this slowly-in God’s time, not our own.

A quiet word, as in the whisper to Elijah in the whirlwind of our doubts and fears, may often be the one we must strain to hear and follow.

And when such a word calls us, as it did the people of Israel, into unfamiliar territory, even a wilderness without clear landmarks, obedience means to listen to this call and to follow it in trust.

This is hard work, and it involves suffering as we let go of our attachments to the familiar and secure. We may launch out, as Peter did, in fear and trembling, and at times draw back in fear and need God’s forgiveness for our faltering.

As always, for those of us in the church, Jesus is our guide for this attentive listening:

8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
(Hebrews 5:8–9).

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