To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you...
Listening in the spiritual life is much more than a psychological strategy to help others discover themselves. In the spiritual life the listener is not the ego, which would like to speak but is trained to restrain itself, but the Spirit of God within us. When we are baptised in the Spirit - that is, when we have received the Spirit of Jesus as the breath of God breathing within us - that Spirit creates in us a sacred space where the other can be received and listened to. The Spirit of Jesus prays in us and listens in us to all who come to us with their sufferings and pains.
When we dare to fully trust in the power of God's Spirit listening in us, we will see true healing occur.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
This seems to be more true than we often realise. Like prayer, there is far more to listening than the conscious mind can comprehend. When we set ourselves truly to listen, we cannot know the power that is released in what seems to us like a passive, vulnerable occupation. In fact it is passive and vulnerable, even weak. As Paul recorded the Lord's words, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12.9) It is only when our anxious, fiddly minds are out of the way that God can truly work in us, through us, and we become his to use however he needs.
Perhaps this is why penitence us so vital in both prayer and pastoral ministry. It is only when we truly recognise ourselves as sinners that we can see ourselves as channels of grace, mere transmission lines for the power of Christ's mercy...