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Heart Listening: Key to the Synodal Way of Living

This is the first in a series of blogs inspired by Pope Francis’ dream that we will learn how to become a church that journeys together, with Christ.  The Pope often calls for us to learn the art of accompaniment.  This blog takes a look at what many would say is the cornerstone of accompaniment: listening with our heart.

Today’s reading from St. Paul to the church in Rome encourages them to foster the obedience of their hearts.  Obedience…from the Latin “to lean in toward”, but to lean toward with a degree of trust that the heart recognizes the truth.  St. Paul is reminding Jesus’ followers in Rome, and us today, that we are to lean in toward Christ and one another with our hearts.  Why?  Why do we need to lean in toward Christ and one another with our hearts?   Because our hearts recognize truth and hold the power of connection and compassion.   Our hearts are the locus of Christ-within-us.  

As I work to grasp Pope Francis’ dream for the Church in this millennium, I am glimpsing the vision of the people of God leaning in toward one another from our hearts: listening deeply to one another so that we can respond individually and collectively to the demands of truth and connection.  I believe the Pope knows that to heal the fissures rife in the world we need to act from what our hearts know:  that we are connected to one another and all of creation, and that we each need someone to suffer alongside us.

Many of you who know me know that one of my passions is leadership.  You know how strongly I believe when the leaders get better, everyone gets better (thanks Pastor/Leader/Influencer Craig Groeschel).  So what does heart listening have to do with leadership, synodality and listening?  Some leadership gurus say that the first rule of leading is being able to listen with heart.  As we move into the synodal process, I am convinced Pope Francis is challenging the Church hierarchy to embrace this Jesus-centered skill.  And I am convinced he is challenging all people of good will to lean in toward one another with trust, with a desire to understand, with the intention to build bridges and restore frayed or fractured bonds.  I believe the Holy Father is leading us with hope, desiring nothing more than to offer the world the gift of journeying together, suffering alongside, and in so doing bringing the healing touch of the one whose very name means “God saves”, Jesus.

OK…that’s all well and good.  Let’s join in making the dream of journeying together a reality!  Let’s listen to one another from our hearts!  How do we start?  What behaviors indicate listening from the heart?  Here are some:

  • Stop talking. Listening with heart requires that we be quiet, both in speech and in the noisy chatter in our heads, where we are often already thinking about what we will say next and so miss what the other is saying NOW.
  • Put others at ease.   Lean in toward them.  Look at the speaker.  Look interested.  And for heaven’s sake (literally!), remove distractions, especially electronic devices.
  • Use our eyes and tune up our ears. So much messaging is nonverbal (some scholars say up to 90% but most agree it’s at least 70%) so that means heart listeners are watching for physical cues, listening for tone of voice, volume, and intensity.  Heart listeners “read between the words” trying to understand the feelings.
  • Don’t interrupt. Even if that means that we listen to several versions of the same story.    Give the speaker all the time they need to speak.  Sometimes it takes a lot of talking to get to the point.  Let us gift others our patient waiting.
  • Put ourselves in their story…or as the old saying goes: walk in their shoes.  Ask clarifying questions so we can get the context, we can hear the surrounding stories and meet the other people impacting them.  Allow their story to touch our emotions.  Speak empathetically.  Refrain from moving to solutions or actions.
  • Keep our emotions in check. This is especially important if we are in a high stakes emotional interchange.   Meet high energy with calm responses.  Take a break if we need to lower the intensity.   Remember, the goal is to hear the other person out…words and all the nonverbals; not to argue, defend, or offer quick solutions.[i]

As our Church begins to listen, the leaders are called to listen with their hearts.  Participants in small groups are called to the obedience of the heart.  Let’s practice heart listening!  Lean in toward the speaker, employ the above behaviors, receive the messages and refrain from offering solutions.   Let’s journey together compassionately.  Let’s journey together competently.  Let’s lead in this sacred time by listening with heart!

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[i] With thanks to Ananya Das and the Charter for Compassion. “Are you listening with your Heart?”  https://charterforcompassion.org/mindfulness-and-business/listening-with-your-heart  Accessed 10/20/21

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