Listening and Honouring

Featured image: Lars Frantzen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This page introduces us to the process of Spiritual Conversation. Pope Francis has put together some very practical guidance on how to go about doing this. We talk about how it might encourage us to be more open with each other, to be as honest as we are able. We learn to honour each other’s vulnerabilities, and to trust others to honour ours.

We also chat with Betty McDougal about her experiences of hospitality – she has hosted a refugio on the Camino de Compostela for many years, so she gives us valuable insights from her own experience. Henri Nouwen frames that in a different way – how to give space to others so that they can flourish and grow in our parish community? The image of the woman and child, and the image of the woman listening in the page header, both help us to think about what that attentive, spacious listening might look like in practice.

Opening prayer

If you are using this prayer by yourself at home, then remember that you are not alone. You are a valued member of this group, you are sharing this retreat together. Each person will pray and ponder in their own time and place, but the Spirit is with each and every one and all of you. You are together in God.

A: Creator of the world, eternal God,
B: we come together from our own places for a little while.

A: Redeemer of humanity, God with us,
B: we have come with all our differences seeking common respect

A: Spirit of unity, go-between God,
B: we have come with stories of our own to a place where stories meet.

A: So here, in this space, let us take time together. for when your people gather and stories are shared, there is much to celebrate and honour.
B: In your name, three in one God, pattern of community. Amen.

Adapted from “Iona Abbey Worship Book”, 2001. copyright © WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow, Scotland. Reproduced by permission.


Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” 

Acts 2:5-8

Pope Francis on Listening and Honouring

On Spiritual Conversation This is drawn from the Synodal documents and is Pope Francis’s direct advice to us. It gives an introduction to the purpose of Spiritual conversation, and some simple instructions as to how to do it. If you are very short of time, the most important bit is the last paragraph, marked between the stars **. You will need to read this before your next meeting, as you will probably be led, using a version of this method, to talk and listen to each other.

The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates.

Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment. We listen to each other, to our faith tradition, and to the signs of the times in order to discern what God is saying to all of us. This kind of discernment is not only a one-time exercise, but ultimately a way of life, grounded in Christ, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, living for the greater glory of God. Communal discernment helps to build flourishing and resilient communities for the mission of the Church today. Discernment is a grace from God, but it requires our human involvement in simple ways: praying, reflecting, paying attention to one’s inner disposition, listening and talking to one another in an authentic, meaningful, and welcoming way.

If listening is the method of the Synodal Process, and discerning is the aim, then participation is the path. Fostering participation leads us out of ourselves to involve others who hold different views than we do. Listening to those who have the same views as we do bears no fruit. Dialogue involves coming together across diverse opinions. Indeed, God often speaks through the voices of those that we can easily exclude, cast aside, or discount. We must make a special effort to listen to those we may be tempted to see as unimportant and those who force us to consider new points of view that may change our way of thinking.

*A suitable method for group dialogue which resonates with the principles of synodality can be used. For instance, the Spiritual Conversation method promotes active participation, attentive listening, reflective speaking, and spiritual discernment. Participants form small groups of about 6-7 persons from diverse backgrounds. This method takes about at least an hour and comprises three rounds. In the first round, everyone takes equal turns to share the fruit of his or her prayer, in relation to the reflection questions circulated beforehand (see #5 of this Appendix). There is no discussion in this round and all participants simply listen deeply to each person and attend to how the Holy Spirit is moving within oneself, within the person speaking, and in the group as a whole. This is followed by a time of silence to note one’s interior movements. In the second round, participants share what struck them most in the first round and what moved them during the time of silence. Some dialogue can also occur, and the same spiritual attentiveness is maintained. Once again this is followed by a time of silence. Finally in the third round participants reflect on what seems to be resonating in the conversation and what moved them most deeply. New insights and even unresolved questions are also noted. Spontaneous prayers of gratitude can conclude the conversation. Usually each small group will have a facilitator and note-taker.*

Optional Resources

1. Betty McDougal was for many years a hospitalier on the Camino de Santiago – a pilgrimage route through France and Spain to the alleged burial site of the apostle, St James. A hospitalier is one who provides hospitality – in this case the host of a refugio, or lodging house, on the Camino Pilgrim route. Here Betty describes some of her experiences of learning to listen and honour pilgrims who thought differently to her, and giving them the space to find their own way of experiencing the pilgrimage.

2* : Henri Nouwen: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.

Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories, and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit….The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free….not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

Reaching Out:  The three movements of Spiritual Life: © Henri J M Nouwen 1975.  William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. Glasgow   All rights reserved.

2. An image of a woman listening to a child.

Questions to Ponder

1: What is your initial reaction to all or any of this source material?

2. We usually talk about the gift of tongues being given at Pentecost, but if we read the passage from Acts carefully, we can see that the miracle is actually one of hearing/listening. How does this change your understanding of the Scripture.

2: Look at the picture of the listening woman and child. How do you think they feel about each other? How can you tell they are listening to each other? What do you think they are saying to each other?

3: If you are comfortable, share an experience you may have had of being listened to. How did you recognise that your ideas were being honoured? How was it shown to you? How did that make you feel? How can you show it to others?

4. Both Betty McDougal and Henri Nouwen talk about the need to give space to other people, and to respect the validity of their experiences in order to truly welcome and honour them. How, as a group, might you choose to best welcome, listen to and honour each other?

Closing prayer

A: As we continue in our retreat together, in this day and in our lives
B: May we be grateful for the blessings of this day, today and each day.
B: May we be grateful for the new stories and new ways of thinking we have explored, today and each day.
B: May we be grateful for kind company, heedful to God, heedful to ourselves and heedful to each other, today and each day

A: God who speaks so that all may hear you
B: Bless all that we have heard and honoured in our work today

A: God from whom all gifts come, who shares our adventure, and delights in our friendship
B: We thank you for your presence with us as we continue in our retreat this day, and each day of our lives. Amen