by guest blogger Leslea Linebarger /
I’ve recently become reminded of how important it is to hold space for others and simply listen as the waters are stirred. The last two years of living through the pandemic have emphasized this need, as people have become isolated and anxious, watching as their fears and losses mount. I’ve been privileged to hear people’s confessions that their spirituality isn’t “working” anymore, to hear their doubts and questions as divisions highlight a spiritual divide they didn’t know existed. I’ve also been graced to hear and see breakthroughs that have left me in awe as people have become open to something new with God.
How much of their journey into this new space did their confession play? I believe it’s integral to healing and wholeness and to the work God would do in us. We tell our stories out loud to one who holds the space and listens, not only to our words but to the leading of the Spirit. In that sacred space our eyes are opened to see more, and then we find we have more to confess as we sit in silence with what has surfaced. We also discover more about the depths of God’s love for us. Our spiritual journey is as much about learning to know and love ourselves at this deeper level as it is seeking something deeper with God. And for that we need someone who not only believes in but practices spiritual stillness as they wait in silence to see what arises.
My own confession is that I have not always done this. It’s much easier to respond and offer up my own experience, perspective or “wisdom.” It’s simpler to let spiritual direction follow cultural norms and become conversational or even chatty. Though this may help people feel comfortable, if I’m relying mainly on my experience and the “tools” I’ve learned over time, I can miss the new thing God might want to speak in this present moment. When one of my directees recently asked if we could try a more contemplative session, I realized I’d drifted from this model. As we returned to this deeper level of listening, I saw again how powerfully the Spirit speaks into the silence. It was a mystical experience and I watched gratefully as the Spirit spoke and revealed truth to him in our held space. Later I began to wonder whether I’d missed hearing God’s voice in other ways. And saw that I’d forgotten that this is part of what it means to me to love God and love others. New things surface when I listen into the silence. And when I confess my inability to love to the One who is Love Itself.
One thing I’ve been practicing is to remember that as I hold space and listen, my directee is not the only one speaking. As I remain in the silence and let their words settle, what is the Spirit bringing up in this space? Can I hold any confessions that come up as sacred space and let God do with that what he will? Can I put aside my own ego’s need to “bring something of value” and simply pray and wait and listen? Even if it feels a bit uncomfortable, can I let the silence linger long enough for them to get a glimpse of God as he passes through? The Holy One is in our midst. Will we see and hear him? May it be so, Lord Christ.
“For You alone my soul waits in silence; from the Beloved comes my salvation.”
Psalm 62:1, Psalms for Praying; Nan Merrill
Leslea Linebarger lives in Southborough, MA. She offers spiritual direction virtually and at St. Mark's Episcopal Church where she leads a weekly women's discussion group. She is a member of the eNE Guidance Team and enjoys hiking, biking, cooking and spending time with her children and two grandchildren.