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For over 15 years I taught people how to listen. And in my role as a spiritual director, listening is what I primarily do in a session. Listening to the person and listening for the movement of the Spirit with her/him/they. I marvel how listening heals, affirms and reveals. Most of the time we only listen long enough to defend our own position or to offer advice we are sure is correct. The listening that is a spiritual practice is the listening that accepts what is being said without judging first and is curious. Trust builds. Understanding comes. And the person often comes up with the answer to their own problem as they speak.

So I offer this simple (but not easy) practice of listening in this way. Although there is much to say about this practice, I’ll suggest that when someone is talking, some tips to help listen are: Say“Tell me more about that.” Or repeat back what you heard the person say to be sure you understood. (It not only helps you but sometimes the person themself hears better what they are saying and may change it.)  If asked for advice (which is such a tempting thing to jump into), instead say, “What’s your guess?”

The most important thing is to listen to understand, not to get your point across or cut someone off  to tell your own story—“I think..” “If it was me..” “Well, I can tell you…”

Just listen. It’s fine to ask clarifying questions or to encourage the other person, but mostly just listen with an open heart. It is a particular sort of kindness. A gentle way to love others.


Pastor Marcia Wakeland is a retired ELCA pastor, a spiritual director and a listening advocate. She is interested in the actual experience of having faith and how that is lived out. She can be reached at for comments or more questions Her ongoing blog of living out spiritual practices is