Holy Listening, Sacred Compassion: Paths to a Healing Communion

The seemingly unending pandemic, climate change, natural disasters, discrimination, inequality, injustices, and violence of every kind—all the “-isms” we can think of (racism, ageism, sexism, etc.), ideological, political, and religious conflicts—impact and shape our lives in ways we might never imagine. They can spawn deep-seated, contagious anger, embed themselves in the lives of family, friends, and colleagues and put people at odds with each another.

How do we deal with this reality? Is ignoring the other the only option? Is it even possible to heal and repair such fractured relationships? How might we restore a sense of communion among those we know and love and those we encounter?

To invite insight into these questions, we consulted six Springfield Dominican sisters trained in spiritual direction. Sisters Anita Cleary, Kathleen Cour, Karen Freund, Phyllis Schenk, Catherine Stewart, and I, contributed our perspectives to grappling with these questions.

spiritual directors - group

In light of the world’s brokenness, many are wondering: “Where is faith? Where is God in all of this?” What we know of and from our God is that compassion, kindness, sympathy, and caring are some of the spiritual values that drive humanity. Deep within each of us lies an innate desire to love and care for others. We tend to turn to faith and prayer in a time of crisis, but with churches, temples, and mosques closed for many months, we’ve found ourselves without the comfort of familiar rituals in the context of community.

These testing times have required—and continue to require of us—spiritual innovation. In the midst of it all we are invited by the Divine to discover, or re-discover, that we are spiritual beings and part of a global, spiritual, connected community. Two approaches surfaced among us as promising ways forward. 

1. Healing encounters with people who hold drastically differing opinions require a depth of listening, a Holy Listening.

2. Such encounters will emerge from and witness to a depth of sacred compassion for the other.

The first approach requires significant courage because conversation necessitates mutual listening. No small task! It is critical that each person respects the other and brings an openness to truly listen for understanding. These conversations necessitate setting aside judgmental attitudes and efforts to convince the other that “I am the one with ALL the answers!” Attentive, careful listening could reveal that the other person risks the loss of job or livelihood or is experiencing shame and disapproval. Being present to another in this way can be a blessing. It can move the conversation from “either/or” to “both/ and”. It’s a chance to talk rather than fight. It can bring people to a dialogue at a deeper level. Holy Listening allows for either person can choose to change his/her mind…or not.

The second approach, deepening sacred compassion, recognizes that self-compassion is a prerequisite for compassion for others. In our busy world, it’s easy to become frustrated, depleted from care-giving, jealous, angry or filled with resentment. Instead of paying attention to these feelings, we push them aside, or push through them, never acknowledging them, closing our hearts. This is the moment that calls for self-compassion if we are to be able to  extend compassion to others.  This same is true of forgiveness.

Ways to be the change

Seek spiritual direction.
You can reach the six of us through the Spiritual Direction page on our website. Your parish or diocese may also have lists of spiritual directors in your area.

The Gentle Art of Blessing: A Simple Practice That Will Transform You and Your World by Pierre Pradervand. This book outlines a spiritual practice of blessing others in our everyday lives. Blessing others, from that most loving place within ourselves can transform our lives and the lives of those around us. While it is naturally easy to bless those we agree with, it is harder—but healing—to bless those whose perspectives differ from ours or to bless relationships that seem broken beyond repair.

Or Try This Book..
Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus, by Frank Rogers, Jr. The author suggests that those wishing to create healing encounters take their own PULSE:

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    Pay attention

    Look at your restlessness or agitation in a nonjudgmental, non-reactive way.

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    Understand empathically

    Listen for the fear, the longing, or the aching wound embedded within that restlessness. Take time to tend to it.

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    Love with connection

    As you explore your wound, see with nonjudgmental eyes and accept its presence in your life at this time. Befriend it, talk to it, and ask it what it needs from you. The love that flows from compassion does not critique, shame or belittle.

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    Sense the Sacredness

    Compassion is a spiritual energy. God is working in our lives to heal and renew us so that we may in turn offer that compassion to others.

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    Embody new life

    Notice the gifts that emerge as you take your PULSE throughout the day. Be attentive to the fact that the agitation that prevented your compassion is slowly disappearing.

When your PULSE is steady, you are ready to once again be kind, caring and compassionate towards others.

What we desire, and how we respond to our desires, matters. Every person’s decisions help or hinder the grace of God among us. As we claim the gifts of repentance and forgiveness that God holds out to us, we are better able to extend them to others.

Sr. Barbara Blesse Sister Barbara is pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier Church, Carbondale, Ill.

You can contact her through the Spiritual Direction page here.

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