Recently, I spent a wonderful four-day weekend on Lake Ariel in upstate Pennsylvania with my sister, brother-in-law and 8-year-old nephew.
My nephew, Johnnie, was born in eastern Long Island in wonderful suburbia and is somewhat of a daredevil. However, the outdoor experience and rural living is a bit alien to him. I totally enjoyed showing him tiny things of nature. For instance, I picked up a daddy long-legger and held it in midair. In response, he jumped away from me, quivering. “Aunt Sister, please put it down!” I giggled quietly, gently put the creature gently on the ground and assisted Johnnie in studying how it moved. I told him about the differences between spiders and daddy long-leggers. I found myself going with him to look for cob webs in order to identify daddy long-leggers and their particular webs. By talking about the webs and the spiders, he became less afraid. I was amazed that he listened not just with his mind, but also with his heart.
I was reminded of this story as I continue reflecting on different aspects of listening. According to Kay Lindahl, author of The Sacred Art of Listening1, when we listen from within our experience, we learn about new possibilities. Let me explain.
Part of our Catholic tradition stemming from the spirituality of St. Ignatius is a daily evening exercise in reflection of our day. This is called the Daily Examen. There are five steps to this practice: 1) Ask God for Light to look at the day through the eyes of God, 2) Give thanks for the day that I have just lived, 3) Review the day by carefully looking back, 4) Face your shortcomings; things you did wrong or things you were “called” to do but did not, 5) Look toward the day to come by asking God where you need His help for the next 24 hours.2
The practice of the Daily Examen, a mere five-minute exercise, gives us space for reflection. This can teach us to be better listeners to God, others and ourselves. It slows us down in order to see how God works in our lives, where He is calling us to change and to battle against our sinful inclinations, AND where we have had victories in this battle. By listening to God in this way, a new perspective is created that can allow us to see His fingerprints in all things. Including spiders!
1Lindahl, Kay. The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice. SkyLight Paths Pub., 2002. Pg. 21.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness