October 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In my IFS (Internal Family Systems Model) training we learn that key to the model is the ability to listen. We want to hear the needs of the other so that we can help facilitate healing, not by imposing our own "healing agenda", but by allowing the healing agenda to rise from within the other. We are all made in God's image, so the answers come from that very deep and divine place in us all.

Khalil Gibran once wrote that a teacher "who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind."

Listening is not as easy as it seems! If we think we know what the other needs and try to impose our own agenda, we will never actually hear what the other says. What is revealed in such misguided attempts is not the needs of the other but the needs of the teacher, priest, or therapist. This imposition of "answers" often turns out to be a form of violence against the other, an attempt to "convert" them by ignoring them and a not-so-veiled attempt to make people do what we want them to do.

Love never tries to make other people in our own image.

Our minds are usually a jumble of thoughts and when we think we are listening to another person we are actually more attuned to the noise inside our own heads. We aren't really hearing the other at all or, if we are, it sounds garbled and hard to understand. First, we need to learn to clear a space in all that internal chaos, so we can hear!

Of course, the mystics ofthe Church and other religious traditions discover this. Saints are those who are able to hear without judgment and distraction. They impose nothing. Thus, they are truly attuned to the needs of the one in front of them rather than to their own agendas. They also are people of faith knowing that God is the one teacher and he resides in the hearts of all. They trust God is really there and that all healing comes from within.

So, Love starts with the ability to hear the other. Mystics develop this wonderful talent through meditation, contemplation and prayer. We can, too. We must, if we are ever to know what love really is.

Thich Nhat Hanh says it like this in his usual pithy and poetic way.

Listening is a very deep practice ... You have to empty yourself. You have to leave space in order to listen.

Self-emptying through meditation is not passive navel-gazing, it is a movement towards the image of God within and to Love. Thus, meditation, "the laying aside of all earthly cares" for a time, is the preparation to listen, to hear, to love, to pray. Meditation leads us to the threshold of prayer that hears God rather than imposes on God. It opens space within us that is truly selfless and open.

Much love in Christ,

+Fr. Antony Hughes