Seeking, discovering, and then assenting to one’s life vocation is a simple but confusing process. There is no step-by-step formula to follow, but St. Benedict gives excellent instructions for discernment. “Listen carefully…and…attend with the ear of your heart.” Let’s break it down.
There is much noise around us all the time, and we hear all of it. However, there is a difference between hearing and listening. In order to listen, we must pay attention. We are not able to pay attention to every noise around us, so we have to choose what we will listen to. Most of the time this is unconscious, but if we are going to seek God and God’s will for our lives, we must consciously choose to pay attention and pay attention deeply to the sounds that speak to us of God.
We also need to listen carefully to the people and events in our daily lives. When I was discerning my call to religious life, I was surprised by some of the responses I received from family and friends. My Father said, “We always knew you were serious about this stuff (my Catholic faith).” That was his first response. He later pushed back against my plan to enter the Benedictine community in Cullman. This later response did not surprise me. The first one was a shock, as I thought that faith had only recently become important to me.
Positive responses from my Catholic friends were affirming but not surprising. However, when I told my plan to a Jewish friend, she said, “I knew you were going to say that.” I was stunned. How did she know? Clearly, God can speak to us from unexpected people.
“Attend with the ear of your heart.”
This is a phrase that is strange for a Western culture. How can the heart have an ear? Benedict drew on the writings of Eastern monastics as well as Western ones. In Eastern cultures, the heart is more than the organ that pumps life-blood throughout the body. It is more than the symbol of our feelings. It is the seat or core of the human person. To listen with the core of our being is to pray a prayer that goes beyond words. It is a prayer that gives room for God to speak. It is a prayer that happens in silence. Silence is little appreciated in our culture, but it is necessary if we are truly to listen for the nudges and whispers of God’s voice and will for our lives.
By Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB