Practise Deeper Listening to Bring About Change

Ash Wednesday occurs on 17 February to begin the season of Lent in 2021. The ritual will be a little different this year.

Due to the current global pandemic, the Vatican has advised there will be no marking of our foreheads with a cross of ashes. Instead, there will be a general call to the congregation to ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ or ‘Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.’ Individually we will then be able to choose to remain standing in our places or to come forward for a sprinkling of ashes on our heads! [1]

The traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving will continue to be part of our weekly Lenten habits but right now after almost a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews, it might feel as if we could give Lent a miss for this year! Or, on the contrary, our experience of ‘stay at home’ restrictions, state border closures, limited gatherings, working from home and social distancing have called for patience, isolation, creativity, neighbourliness and caution for the sake of the common good that all need to continue.

Pope Francis reminds us that no acts of virtue can be great unless they are followed up by advantages for others and that if we were going to give up anything in Lent, he recommends a fast from indifference to others and to God.

Whenever our interior life gets caught up in its own interests and desire, there is no room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades… [2]Pope Francis

I would like to pick up the point of indifference made by Pope Francis as I find it more of a challenge than going without ice cream or chocolate!

After watching the recent chaos and violence among the opposing sides in America prior to the Inauguration of President Joe Biden, and listening to the voices rallying for change around Australia Day, I was struck by Sr Nancy Sylvester’s article in the Global Sisters Report of 18 January 2021 with Enter the Chaos: Engage the Differences to Make a Difference. Nancy calls us to engage with difference rather than choosing to walk away from it. Nothing will change to bring about unity until we make a conscious decision to try to understand an opposing point of view and what lies underneath it. We know from Einstein that the problems of today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking or consciousness that created them.

How can we engage with difference and not compromise what is sacred to our way of thinking?

To begin a process of healing and repair, we need to become aware of what goes on within one’s self when we react to those with whom we disagree. What we believe to be true and the “right way” to do anything. How we defend our positions and prevent different ideas from getting in. Why we’d rather dismiss or ridicule those who are on the other side rather than to be curious as to why they feel and think that way.
This transformation of mind and heart calls us to love one another as one’s self. (Mark 12:31).Nancy Sylvester

It calls for a new way of engaging with difference. It is a new consciousness that flows from a contemplative heart that wants to see and hear more. “It is a consciousness that reconnects with one’s true self. It is a consciousness that touches into one’s relationship with God.” [3]

After practising this deeper listening, I would hope to be more likely to respond rather than react to difficult situations. Would I be less likely to feel a compulsion to impose my views or conform to those of others without allowing the extra space for meaning to evolve? To allow a generous respect that makes for less separateness and division? Would the quest for unity be then more possible?

Does this practice of deeper listening sound like a challenge for your Lent?

Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may discern what God’s will is – what is good, pleasing and perfect.(Romans 12: 2)
If disappointed, don’t say hard things. Only think a little, pray a little, and try to remember that God will bring about what is best in God’s own time.Mary MacKillop. 2.9.1873

Kerrie Cusack rsj


[1] Vatican modifies distribution of ashes for Ash Wednesday by Vatican News. 12 January 2021.
[2] Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent: What you should give up this year featured on the Carmelites: The Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel website.
[3] The revolution that begins within featured on Global Sisters Report by Nancy Sylvester. 18 January 2021.

Image: Ash Wednesday Lent Spiritual by Gini George obtained from Pixabay.