Practices From the Inside Out: Listening for the Sacred


Listening for the Sacred

Are there sounds which are sacred to you? What does spiritual life sound like in your ears? How do you listen for the Sacred?

We live in a world surrounded by sounds. For me, those sounds are more likely to be traffic or people talking than a gentle breeze. We rarely take time to get away from the sounds all around us and listen for the Sacred.

When we want to escape the sounds of everyday life we usually mask them with other sounds. Our earbuds or headphones allow us to avoid paying attention to the sounds around us. Are we listening, or just avoiding other sounds?

Some people believe we need to go to a sacred place with special people to listen to the Sacred. They think if we go to a sacred space and sit in silence we can listen better.

There are people who hear the Sacred in a particular kind of music or in certain words.

Stillness can help us listen for the Sacred. For me, it is more helpful to find the stillness in me than in the world around me.

There are moments, often when I am not paying much attention, when the Sacred breaks through. Like a voice we recognize through the din of everyday sounds, the Sacred welcomes us.

Sometimes we really want to hear the Sacred and we listen intently. It is a challenge for us to listen in openness and not try to fit the Sacred into our expectations.

How do we listen for the Sacred? What are we listening for? Which sounds are sacred and which are not? When we listen for the Sacred how do we recognize it?

What gets in the way and interferes with our ability to listen for the Sacred?

How Do We Listen for the Sacred?

It is as if the Sacred speaks in many different languages and we each listen in our own way.

Many people assume stillness is the only way to listen for the Sacred. Stillness is very helpful, but I have listened for the Sacred in many ways which were not still.

There are times when we stop and settle our breathing, wanting to remove any distraction. It may be a challenge for us to hear even the smallest sound of the Sacred. We find the quietest place we can, away from others, and seek stillness within ourselves. It can be beneficial to take anything which might possibly distract us out of the picture.

It is like editing an audio track to remove the background noises which make it harder to listen.

There are other times when the Sacred saturates us and flows through us. How could we listen to anything else? Everything reverberates with the Sacred and listening is not difficult.

We hear the rhythm of the Sacred in our own pulse.

Our experience of listening for the Sacred is often between these extremes. It may help us to remember both the power of stillness and the immersive presence of the Sacred.

There are times, particularly when I am struggling to listen for the Sacred, when I need to be still. It may be a specific question I am trying to answer or guidance I am seeking. The challenge for me is to remain as open as I can be.

Listening for the Sacred, even more than listening to each other, is about being open.

My own practice includes both spending time in stillness and recognizing the presence of the Sacred.

Open to the Stillness

Most of us spend very little of our time and energy exploring stillness. It is as if we do not appreciate the value, the power of being still.

Stillness is the first step in listening to anyone, even ourselves. We cannot listen to our inner selves, each other, or the Sacred until we discover stillness.

Something which is simple and uncomplicated can be very challenging. We have trained ourselves to avoid stillness, not to listen.

Stillness may be simple, but it is not easy.

One description of stillness I enjoy is that stillness is not being distracted by our thoughts. We discover our own stillness when we find a way not to allow our thoughts to run wild. Our minds may still head off in many directions, but we find a way not to chase them.

Rather than heading off in so many intriguing directions, we remain still and catch our breath. We find the discipline we need to be still and we practice it.

In our stillness, we become open to everything around us and within us. Rather than flitting around chasing bright, shiny objects, we can be still for a few moments.

As we practice stillness we remember why we are here.

The Presence of the Sacred

Our stillness and openness help us to become receptive. We are not distracted by whatever draws our immediate attention, but begin to listen.

What we can hear has been overwhelmed by all the sounds and noises. As we become still, the momentary background noises fall away. We begin to listen for the Sacred.

It is not that the Sacred is a particular style of music or peaceful sounds. We listen for the Sacred because in it we hear the echo of Sacred truths. It is not that we want to be comforted or lulled to sleep. Sacred truth is something which awakens us and calls us to act.

We listen to the Sacred because it is honest and authentic. In all the competing and conflicting noise all around us, the Sacred truth draws us. Not a set of rules or a list of expectations, the Sacred embraces and enfolds us. The Sacred is with us and within us.

When we realize we may have forgotten, we stop and remember to listen for the Sacred.

We begin to realize the Sacred has been with us all along.

When will we listen for the Sacred this week?

How will we recognize the Sacred when we hear it?

[Image by JoanDragonfly]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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