The best gifts can’t be wrapped.
Being lovingly present with another person in a way that helps them attend more deeply to themselves and to the presence of God with them is a better gift than any material object. Certain conversations are luminous in my memory, times when another person’s or a group’s listening and gentle questions have helped me express truth that I had been concealing even from myself. I treasure the moments when others have helped me listen to hidden aspects of myself that I might otherwise have neglected, or encouraged me to pay attention to grace I’ve experienced or to fleeting guidance that has lighted my way on the path of faithfulness.
We can learn skills that help us listen to other people in a way that allows them to access and express the truth in their hearts. First of all, we learn to quiet our own minds as we listen to another. It’s natural for an inner commentary to take place when we hear someone speak, but we don’t have to give attention to that commentary. We can let it go and learn to listen without judgment, analysis, or opinions. We can be quietly present in a way that allows the sacredness of the other person and of the moment to fill our attention. We can learn to listen not only to the words they say but also to the way in which they speak, the tone of voice, to their joy or sadness, their fear or enthusiasm. We can pay attention to the language of their body, such as the arms folded over the chest, the constriction in the throat, or the radiance that comes when people are speaking their deepest truth. We can attend, also, to the silent presence of what more wants to be said.
When someone shares their pains or challenges, most of us are quick to offer suggestions or opinions. At times these can be helpful, especially when solicited, but a deeper kind of listening can help someone tune in to their own inner knowing and to divine guidance. In the long run, helping another person to attend to the trustworthy source of wisdom within is far more helpful than suggestions, however wise.
Offering questions can be an important part of deep listening, if the questions are simple and their purpose is to help the speaker explore their inner knowing more fully. Some questions ask for factual information. Other questions invite the speaker to engage in intellectual reflection or analysis. These questions have their uses, but another kind of question is designed to help someone pay attention to the movement of the Spirit within them, or to the work of God in their lives, minds, and hearts. Our culture generally does not encourage us to pay attention inwardly, and most of us miss the subtle movements and and whispered guidance of the divine voice within. A question that helps evoke our awareness and draw our attention to the presence of the divine is a great gift, along with our loving willingness to be with another person as they explore this.
Asking evoking questions requires self-discipline on the part of the listener, the discipline not to insert our own opinions or stories, the discipline of really being present for the sake of the other person’s discovery of their truth. The one who offers the question must also be listening inwardly, as we search for the simple query that can invite our friend into deeper exploration and expression.
What seems to most help or hinder your attentiveness to God?
What images or phrases or scripture passages seem to be sources of guidance at this time?
In which situations do you feel you are most authentic and faithful to what you were most truly made to be?
If we pay attention carefully as the speaker tells us about their inner and spiritual experiences, we may notice that when they say something tears come, or a radiant smile. At such moments the best way to help the speaker explore more deeply is simply to ask them to say more about where the tears or smile are coming from. Or if they have described a moment of grace, we can invite them to return to that and say more about it. When we help another person look more deeply–in a feeling rather than analytical way–at how God has been at work in them and in their life, or if we help them go back to a moment of grace and savor it, they may notice more about how the Spirit is with them, guiding, teaching, healing, or loving them. This may unlock hidden insights or truths waiting to be brought into awareness and expressed.
What do you experience when you pray about what God is asking of you?
In this new 8 1/2-minute video by Rachel Guaraldi, several Friends speak about our experience of using evoking questions to help another person listen inwardly to the wisdom and divine guidance that is available there.
Evoking questions can be used in spiritual friendships, clearness committees, faithfulness groups, spiritual direction, and any situation in which there is an intention to help another person explore more deeply their experience and awareness of God and the divine presence. It is a priceless gift, more valuable that diamonds, rubies, computers, cars, or anything material.
How is the Spirit working within you? What are you learning?
© 2020 Marcelle Martin
Marcelle’s new book A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by small groups that practice ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance, a practice that holds great potential for supporting individuals of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.
Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who were inwardly guided by God to work and witness for radical changes in their society. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life, designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.
Both books are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.) To order multiple copies of either book, postage free, contact us.
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