Book Review: Holy Listening

Have you ever felt isolated from your own story? Do you go through days without a sense of the continuity between your habits and action and who you are and what you want to live for? The noisiness of life has a tendency to mute our identity and stifle any sense of progression and conversation that we might be having within ourselves and with God.

My own experience with the isolation of noisiness is one of the reasons I started learning about spiritual direction. Spiritual direction confronts the deafening noise of the world with a space to hear in silence. Spiritual direction gives me a time to hear myself. Spiritual direction provides a path to God. It’s a powerful practice that has been formative in my own life.

One of the texts that has helped me understand what spiritual direction is and is not is Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther. This book helps readers enter into the world of spiritual direction. In spiritual direction the director helps reconnect the directee through embodying the roles of a host, teacher, and midwife.

As host the spiritual director creates a space that is safe and welcoming. This is not the space where the noise of daily tasks and a busy schedule take place, this is a sacred space. It can look any number of ways, but it is created with care for the individuals experiencing direction in mind. In my own direction experience this is a little library in a Jesuit house in Chicago.

As a teacher the spiritual director is not telling the person under their care what to do, rather they are helping to engaging the questions that are central to helping the directee recognize their place and struggle. They help the directee identify questions at times more than provide answers. Having questions can often be a sign of spiritual health; unfortunately people are often uncomfortable having questions. People want to deal with the questions and move on. A good teacher helps a student really live in the question more than just providing a solution. Nowhere is this more important than in spiritual direction. Questions themselves are a form of silence that can be a place where we can hear God away from the noise of the world. They offer paradigms where new insights can emerge. Spiritual direction is, in part, being the kind of teacher that invites questions.

The spiritual director as midwife is another powerful analogy. Most people are wounded in some way. Life is challenging and often times there are hurts and struggles that people are always working through. There is a natural tendency for people to bury pain and hurt and try to move on, however this is not always a healthy solution. Sometimes out of the midst of the brokenness that one experiences there is a new life that can emerge. Fostering and birthing this new life is one of the primary roles that any spiritual director can engage in. Many people come to spiritual direction because they recognize that there is something in them that needs to come out, and they are frightened and confused by the process. Spiritual directors can help transform times of fear and confusion into growth and celebration. I know this is something that I have experienced myself as a directee.

These three vocational lenses presented in Holy Listening have been personally helpful to me. I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in perusing spiritual direction as a director or as a directee. It has helped me clarify how this spiritual practice can have power in my own life, and has given me a few paradigms out of which I have been able to be a better minister to others.

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