LOVE: A Listening Heart by Joan Chittister

A Listening Heart by Joan Chittister

From The Monastery of the Heart

Listen carefully to my instructions…and attend to them with the ear of your heart.
(The Rule of Saint Benedict)

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.

It is not an obedience that rests
on blessed ignorance,
or infantile dependence,
or reckless irresponsibility,
or military authoritarianism,
or blind submission
in the name of holiness.

A truly listening heart knows
that we lose the chance for truth
if we give another—any other—
either too much, or too 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.

In a Monastery of the Heart,
it is the acceptance of wisdom not our own
that asks of us the spiritual maturity
that listens first and always to the Word of God—
and allows the Word to be the testing ground
of every other demand made on our lives.

It is obedience to the greater law of love.

An authentic claim to obedience
does not deny another person’s independence
and autonomy of thought.
On the contrary,
it hones the seeker for the sake
of the growth of the community
and the spreading of the Word.

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.


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