On Contemplative Listening: A Doorway into a Deeper Encounter With God

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice contemplative listening

by Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

God invites. Are we willing to listen?

Be still and know that I am God.

That’s what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46.

Like many of the psalms, the context of the lyrics refers to a powerful God in whom humanity is urged to find strength in the face of distress. But, there is another facet of messaging in those words that I find I prefer. Indeed, it’s one I find I can’t live without.

It is a message of comfort; of confidence; of connection. And, as a recent spiritual retreat hosted by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis reminded us, it is one of openness and hospitality. Those who are willing to immerse themselves in the implication of the message are being offered a doorway into deeper encounter with God.

The sisters and those great spiritual guides who have long gone before call the practice of being still in order to know God, contemplative listening.  What one may hear is never a certainty. But what becomes apparent in undertaking the practice is that it’s very easy to lose God’s signal for all the noises that surround us in our daily lives.

Convened in a circle

Convened in a circle

That the sisters should be particularly skilled in contemplative listening is no surprise. It is, after all, something of a staple of the monastic community they form. That they are so solid in their commitment to its practice where they happen to live is something that impresses me deeply. And that they extend that grace and invite us into their company so we can also be still and perhaps come to know God better, is a privilege.

That sense of privilege is one I know that is shared by the rest of the Visitation Companions who participated on this special day. As one of our group observed afterward, the experience of the retreat left her feeling like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. This companion admits that she is more often like Martha, planning, preparing, serving.

“I can and do read lots of books and articles on Salesian spirituality,” she says. “But nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of these wise women who share their knowledge, their lived experience and their love with all.”

She goes on to say that, “On this day, I am glad that I decided to be a Mary and leave my inner Martha behind.

I would offer that so say we all who were able to partake.

Be still and know that I am God.

On Retreat: Sr. Mary Margaret Reflects on her “Inner-Extrovert”

Sr. Mary Margaret

Sr. Mary Margaret

The following is the first in a series of reflections by Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie, as she is writing to me, personally, and has given her permission to excerpt and post these notes of spiritual guidance as mini-blogs. Let’s welcome Sr. Mary Margaret and the wisdom, inspiration, joy and creativity she brings to this website! –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion


The sisters and I recently returned from our annual eight day retreat.  As a side, I took “The Social Animal: Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement”  by David Brooks. I had heard the author speak during this last year.  The book was a gift from a friend –truly a gift.
I found a dear companion in the last two paragraphs of Mr. Brooks’ introduction–my “inner extrovert.”  To quote in an edited way:

“The Greeks used to say we suffer our way to wisdom…The essence of that wisdom is that below our awareness there are viewpoints and emotions that help guide us as we wander through our lives….The unconscious is not merely a dark, primitive zone of fear and pain.  It is also a place where spiritual states arise and dance from soul to soul.  It collects the wisdom of the ages.  It contains the soul of the species.  This book will not try to discern God’s role in all this.  But if there is a divine creativity, surely it is active in this inner soulsphere, where brain matter produces emotion, where love rewires the neurons….

Your unconscious, that INNER  EXTROVERT, wants you to reach outward and connect.  It wants you to achieve communion with work, friend, family, nation, and cause.  Your unconscious wants to entangle you in the thick web of relations that are the essence of human flourishing.  It longs and pushes for love, (for the kind that is fusion of being, shared).  Of all the blessings that come with being alive, it is the most awesome gift.”

During my retreat, then, I welcomed and embraced my “inner extrovert” which gave felt peace and a new sense of balance. I look forward to our efforts to communicate since consciously I rather markedly tend to introversion.

Even if this is not blog material, I know that you will  want to borrow the book.


Mary Margaret