Between and beneath words


My heart is full from listening.

I sit out on my porch with the low and resonant sound of wind chimes and the soft swirling smoke of incense, and I reflect on the power of presence. Trusting another to listen, trusting that the space is safe, requires the giving and opening of one’s whole self into the embrace of the unknown. The very act of coming to a spiritual director takes courage, and I hold this knowing with deep reverence.

Trust has come up in multiple sessions this week, and the unfolding of that word became complex and nuanced. We weren’t always sure of it– what it meant, how to do it, what it feels like. Does it mean faith? Do we work at it or is it gifted to us? One type of trust has a tenacity to it, and another is soft and supple. One feels like a bold color, and another might be a pastel. One feels like it’s masked and expecting something, and yet another is childlike. One word, endless meanings.

So what I’m noticing now, in reflection, is the importance of listening between and beneath words. As a spiritual companion my role in sitting and listening is to “hear you into speech”*, in a space where speech isn’t always verbal. It is a process of hearing and seeing and sensing and, yes, trusting, that the Spirit is in the flow– is the flow– between us.

Sometimes this flow is blocked. There are barriers to listen for as well, of course. And together we probe with questions and silence, with tears and frustration, to find the root of whatever is binding you. Maybe an “a-ha!” is quick to come, or maybe it takes a long time. Either way, we are present– not determined to find answers, but instead surrendered to God within the questions themselves.

Where is it in your life you feel the need to be heard? Who is that person for you? How are you that listener for others?

*Parker Palmer’s beautiful phrase from A Hidden Wholeness.

Christine Hiester