My spiritual director told me of a man—I think he was a Benedictine, but I really don’t remember—who spent an hour with God every morning. Sometimes he talked to God for five minutes, and listened to God for fifty-five minutes; other days he talked for fifty-five minutes and listened for five. It depended on how much he had to say. But that last five minutes was sacred: he always listened for at least five minutes. My spiritual director told me that I should do something similar: whenever I prayed, I should spend at least a little while just listening.
The thing is, just listening is hard. Knowing whether I’m just listening is hard. If I try to sit quietly, and focus on God, and not think anything, and I start free-associating, and it occurs to me that I need to pray for so-and-so or about such-and-such, is that listening? Can I assume that God is guiding my free-associations? Or, since praying for so-and-so is undoubtedly a good thing to do, is He simply redeeming my free-associations?
It’s clear that God sometimes speaks to people audibly, and it’s equally clear that this isn’t the usual way. So I have to assume that God speaks to me through scripture, through my reading, and through my own thoughts, especially the random ones that just seem to pop up. In that sense, responding to God when He reminds you that He’s there is a kind of listening.
This is an area where I feel very much at sea; and yet it’s very important.
I wrote this originally in September of 2012; since then, I’ve done more thinking about this. And then, St. Jerome notes that when we pray we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us. I need to do more spiritual reading.