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Prayerful Listening

Prayerful Listening: Cultivating Discernment in Community
by Lois A. Lindbloom
Northfield, MN: Lois A. Lindbloom, 2007
20 pages
To order, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation
Reviewed by Karen L. Erlichman

If you have been looking for a brief descriptions of the internal experience of discernment in spiritual community, then Lois Lindbloom’s booklet, Prayerful Listening: Cultivating Discernment in Community, will be a welcome addition to your library.

The first dozen pages of the book are a discussion of prayerful listening, which the author defines as “listening in silence and responding to the Light of God within” (3). How does one listen to others, to God, to self? How is intercessory prayer an essential component of discernment in spiritual community? How does silence anchor a group that gathers in prayerful discernment? Lindbloom honors and reveres the gifts that emerge in and from silence, acknowledging that silence is not passive, but rather a state of being spiritually engaged: “It is a silence marked by listening, waiting, noticing” (11).

Lindbloom, a psychotherapist and spiritual director, honors the “quiet, unhurried place of listening” (6) and the questions one asks herself when listening for the Divine Presence. She describes an experience common to nearly every spiritual seeker, namely that of when her “own journey of prayer hit a wall of not knowing how to pray” (8). Whether praying for oneself, for another, or for humanity, “Part of being open to God on behalf of another is a willingness to admit what the barrier is and then to surrender it to God” (9).

The second section is a suggested template for setting up “Group Meetings for Prayerful Listening,” and Lindbloom offers practical guidelines for how to set up a group, appropriate time frames, duration of sessions, and location. There is a rhythm and cadence to how she describes the structure and flow of a group: “Beginning … Settling … Reading … Silent Gathering … Invitation … Sharing … Clarifying …” (12-13).  

Lindbloom gives great k’vod (a Hebrew word meaning glory, honor or respect) to the guidelines and boundaries of a group that “...create thecontainer” explaining that “A facilitator takes responsibility for holding the container” (12).

This booklet clearly is written from a Christian perspective, although Lindbloom does include some quotes from Psalms and other Jewish texts. I did not entirely agree with her interpretation of God in the Hebrew Bible as simply “God-for-us”(6) as compared with the Christian Jesus as “God-with-us”(6) or the Holy Spirit being “God-within-us”(6). This is a theological interpretation which does not ring true for me as a Jewish spiritual director. Moreover, there were a few citations which were attributed to Christianity that actually have their origins in Judaism.

Despite these concerns, I still found Prayerful Listening: Cultivating Discernment in Community useful, inspiring, and helpful in many ways. This booklet will be of interest to spiritual directors and others who lead groups and retreats, leaders in formation and training programs, as well as chaplains, clergy and even religious educators. Whether lay, ordained, a professional, or volunteer—all will find great treasures in this simple booklet.

Karen Lee Erlichman, MSS, LCSW,is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in San Francisco, California, USA, where she provides psychotherapy and spiritual direction. Her writing has appeared in Tikkun, and online at interfaithfamily.com. She is the Bay Area Director of Jewish Mosaic: the National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.

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