I give you a new command: listen

Statuary at the Catholic Conference Center

In the story of the Transfiguration God issued an important command. Listen. After Jesus was transfigured and his clothing became dazzling white, the voice from the cloud said, “Listen to him”. (Mk 9:2-10)

When people come to me for spiritual direction, many ask, “How?” How can I better listen to God? One answer: Practice good listening skills. Many of the same apply to both listening to another person and listening to God. Here are some comparisons that might be a help to you:

Be Present. To listen is to be present to the other. This means minimizing distractions, clearing unnecessary clutter, and turning off the cell phone. With another person, I then lean in a little and make good eye contact. It is not much different when I listen to God. I find a time and place where there will be few distractions. In this place of stillness, I lean into God with not only my ears but my eyes and my heart.

Keep an Open Mind. Good listening requires an open mind. Rather than leap ahead to where I think the other is going in the conversation, I try to be open to what the other person is revealing to me at that moment. When listening to God, an open mind is essential. I keep looking for those surprising revelations and alternatives I had not previously considered.

Restrain from offering opinions. Good listeners are also not too quick to offer solutions or express their opinions. This is also very important when listening to God. Too many times I want to tell God exactly what needs to be done and when, instead of being patient and simply listening.

Limit Talking About Myself. Another skill of a good listener is that he or she spends little time on self-talk, divulging their life, problems, or achievements. A good listener just listens. As it relates to listening to God, my prayer too often becomes an extended conversation with myself and not with God. I must deliberately silence this inner dialogue and reach out in that silence to the voice of God.

Ask Clarifying Questions. Another skill of a good listener is to ask clarifying questions, seeking a deeper understanding of what the other is trying to communicate. When listening to God, it is likewise important to formulate questions that often lead to new questions. Even the disciples left this magnificent transfiguration experience with a question: “What does rising from the dead mean?” (Mk 9:10)

With another person, the answers come quickly and provide some clarity. With God, the answers often come slowly, in various and fragmented ways. But they come, provided I am listening.

Spend some time this Lent practicing listening with both God and a person that God has placed in your path.