Listening as a Me and a We

Apr 6 / Kathi Gatlin
Our church is going through a revisioning process and is leaning toward refreshing our understanding of listening. An essential component of this process is that we are Quakers—we listen together on the way forward instead of voting so that the majority rules. We listen to God's movement and invitation, trusting God to meet each of us in navigating the way forward. It is a beautiful process to witness and be part of. We listen in a Meeting for Worship and in a Business Meeting for Worship. Even the titles of the meetings explicitly state the worship experience of listening together. 

Part of our process has been distinguishing between listening as a Me, individually, and as a We, communally. Have you ever wondered about how those approaches are the same and different? Leaning into that discovery has been a fun journey. 

Listening as a Me

What is it like for you to listen to God individually? How does it feel internally? What concepts, emotions, images, or bodily sensations do you experience in that space? 

For me, I experience a movement of God in a non-thematic way - I sense either a resonance, resistance, or invitation internally. I may notice tears without any words or emotions to accompany them. I may become aware of emotions or images as I sit with what I am sensing. Words, concepts, or ways of explanation may come as I continue to hold onto what I notice. 

For example, I was sitting with a Scripture verse about the relationship between trust and Christ being at home in my heart. I felt resistance in my ability to create trust for Christ to be at home. This created a dissonance in me, and I had to decide if I move on to something else or listen deeper. Allowing the dissonance to do its work without relieving the uncomfortableness is often fruitful. So, I continued to hold it and looked a few lines lower. The word love stood out to me. Ah, love - tears started flowing, but I felt no emotion or words. Here before me were three words or phrases:

Christ being at home

I continued to sit with these three words and wondered about Christ being at home. I noticed that being at home meant being able to put your feet up, be yourself, and be free. So, Christ being at home would be a space of freedom in my inner world. I can't manufacture that freedom. Yet, as I trust Christ, I would experience greater freedom for Christ to feel at home. And I can't manufacture trust. But as I experience love, I can trust a bit more, and the freedom or spaciousness in my inner world would increase. And as the freedom for Christ to be more at home in my inner world increases, so does my experience of love. The circle continues indefinitely on our journeys. This concept grew through what I sensed in my body and inner world. It moved into the emotions I attached to these words and then into a concept I could share. 

I went through this process while sitting in a Meeting for Worship. So, I was listening as a Me with what I was holding, and I was sitting in a community, listening together for God's movement and invitation. I sensed this process internally in me, and then I held what I noticed with God to discern if this was for me or for the community I was sitting with. 

Discerning that question is essential when we sit in silent worship together. I continued to hold what I noticed with this question. I discerned that it was for me and that, due to the movement I experienced with God, it was also for the community. So, I shared in that space. 

Others have different starting places. My friend starts with concepts and ideas and then moves to the other dimensions. Others may start with emotions and move to concepts and ideas or the non-thematic. Part of being in community is recognizing the gift of offering all of these and listening to others without judgment for their starting places and processes. 

Listening as a We

It is one thing to listen individually in our personal relationship with God. Western Christianity strongly emphasizes the personal relationship. Yet, if we all have that of God in us, as being created in the image of God, then we can listen together. In listening together, we trust that God speaks to us individually, and in sharing what we hear, the pieces come together for a fuller and more complete understanding. 

This is the gift of listening as a community—not through voting or using our power over people—but in listening to the Spirit as a community. When we listen, our own families of origin, experiences in life, and way of viewing the world all have the potential to distort what we hear. When a community comes together to listen, we can sift through what feels like God's voice, or as Howard Thurman calls it, the sound of the genuine. 

So, where is your starting place? 

Usually, one of these is an important starting place. Because of my childhood experiences, I had to first learn to listen as a Me. I had to know my own process outside of the boundary-crossing relationships I first experienced in my family of origin. This beginning place was essential for me to discern my own voice and the voice of God in me. 

Others start by listening as a We in community, learning to trust in hearing God's voice together. Regardless of your starting place, as we grow in listening as a We, we learn to listen deeper as a Me. And as we listen deeply as a Me, we learn to listen deeply as a We. This is the beautiful journey we have of walking and living together in community—growing in love, trust, and inner freedom. 

I wonder what your invitation to listen is? 
What does listening feel like internally for you as a Me or a We? 
How do you recognize the Spirit's voice when you listen?  

Kathi Gatlin
Kathi Gatlin founded Boldly Loved to bring together her two greatest passions: spiritual formation and teaching. In this, she utilizes her M.Ed. earned through George Fox University and her M.A. in Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary. Her greatest joy is walking alongside others, individually and in groups, in their own spiritual journey, sharing ways of understanding God anew through contemplative prayer and teaching, and to see them grow in the depth of their own understanding of who God is and who they are in relationship with God. Kathi is a spiritual director, supervisor, writer, spiritual formation group facilitator, retreat speaker, leadership mentor. For more information about Kathi, check out