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A Truly Listening Heart

There is a magnet in a seeker’s heart whose true north is God. It bends toward the Voice of God with the ear of the heart and, like sunflowers in the sun, turns all of life toward the living of the Word. This listening heart is pure of pride and free of arrogance. It seeks wisdom—everywhere, at all times—and knows wisdom by the way it echoes the call of the scriptures.
The compass for God implanted in the seeker’s heart stretches toward truth and signals the way to justice. It is attuned to the cries of the poor and oppressed with a timbre that allows no interruption, no smothering of the voice of God on their behalf.
These seekers hear the voice of God in the cry of the poor and oppressed, and they immediately put aside their own concerns and follow God’s call in their actions. Monastics cling to the community in order to know a wisdom not their own, to discover the tradition on which they stand, to heed the Word of God together with one heart and one mind—embedded in many shapes and forms, and brought to the fullness of God’s will for them in mind, heart, and soul.
They give themselves to mutual obedience in order to create a common voice—a communal voice—that can be heard above the clamors of self-centeredness. And they do the hard work of community-living and decision-making together, not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness, so that none of the actions taken together are done in vain, so that the Reign of God can come sooner because we have been here.
In a Monastery of the Heart, Benedictine listening honors the function of leadership to point us in the direction of truth, but knows that neither dependence nor license nor authoritarianism are a valid substitute for communal discernment for seeking truth in the light of one another’s wisdom. Communal discernment is a holy hearing of prophetic voices among us. It comes out of listening to others and responding to them in the name of God, so that as a community we can move forward together, one heart at a time.
Benedictine spirituality requires careful listening and responding to the Word of God, to the call of the Jesus who leads us, and to the call of the community, that is the foundation of our spiritual life.
A truly listening heart knows that we lose the chance for truth if we give another—any other—either too much, or two little, control over the conscience that is meant to be ours alone. And yet, at the same time, mutual obedience, real obedience, holy listening, forever seeks the spiritual dialogue holy wisdom demands. It is obedience to the greater law of love.
This listening with the heart to the insights of another is not the obedience of children, or soldiers, or servants, or minions. It is the obedience given to a lover, because of love alone.

                                    —from The Monastery of the Heart by Joan Chittister (Bluebridge)