As demonstrated in the previous installment of this series, the first movement in exercising pastoral creativity is adopting a posture of prayer and gratitude. This cultivates an interior space for reflecting on your own gifts and identifying the community that God calls to your attention to serve. Grounded in gratitude for all that God has given you and all you are able to offer back in love, the next movement is turning to listen to those people whom God has called you to serve.
Listening is key. Rather than rushing in thinking that you know what is best for this community, start by listening—asking them questions and being open to their responses. Questions that explore the hopes, fears, challenges, and gifts of the community will provide you with a robust sense of their pastoral needs.
It is absolutely essential to pastoral creativity that you listen with a disposition of humility. In setting aside your own expectations, you are able to get out of your own way and see what is really there. Seek to understand their experiences, perspectives, and points of view with the desire to see them through God’s eyes.
When an encounter with God is called an “ecstasy,” it is because it takes us out of ourselves, lifts us up and overwhelms us with God’s love and beauty. Yet we can also experience ecstasy when we recognize in others their hidden beauty, their dignity and their grandeur as images of God and children of the Father. The Holy Spirit wants to make us come out of ourselves, to embrace others with love and to seek their good. (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, §164.)
Pastoral creativity calls for the use of what I like to call “Evocative Listening Skills.” Evocative Listening involves four dimensions:
- Be present
- Receive the story
- Seek to understand
- Respond well
Practicing attentive listening helps you to be fully present by assessing your ability to focus on the other person, your own verbal and nonverbal behaviors, and limiting possible distractions. Active listening skills such as reflecting back the messages you receive through both verbal and non-verbal communication ensure that you fully receive the story. Asking clarifying questions and exercising empathy both help you seek to understand the situation from the perspective of the other person. Then, you are able to respond well.
Consider these questions:
- How will I open myself up to receive the members of this community?
- How do I plan to listen to this community? What methods will I use?
- How can I listen without judgment? How can I cultivate openness and empathy?
The next movement of pastoral creativity is to ponder all that you have reflected upon, listened to, and prayed about through the lens of faith. Sit with what you heard in listening to your community and allow yourself to enter into their experience. Pondering is different from analyzing: while you do consider the information received, it is not just to prioritize needs and resources. In pondering, you sift through the information with a disposition of curiosity and wonder. Open yourself up to how the Holy Spirit moves within you and where the Holy Spirit calls your attention for this community.
The salvation that God offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown.” (Christus Vivit, §252)
Through pondering, you utilize your imagination rooted in the richness of the Catholic faith to glimpse the possibilities that speak to this need. For those who are facing doubt and despair, you can help members of your community practice hope, develop resilience, and cultivate perseverance through turning to the story of salvation history found in Scripture. Praying the Psalms unites our voices to the generations of people crying out to God. In response to experiences of isolation and division, you can deepen the community’s awareness of the Church as a community of believers who live out the love of Christ. For members of your community struggling to find meaning and purpose, you can help them to recognize and articulate grace at work in their lives.
Consider these questions:
- What did I hear? What resonates with me? Where do I feel most called to respond?
- What themes of the Catholic faith speak to the needs of this community?
- How will I pray for this community? What might God want for them?
The final installment of this series will explore how to put the fruits of these movements—prayer, reflection, identification, listening, and pondering—into the action of responding through creative pastoral ministry.
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