Inner Listening is a form of spirituality that is practiced among adherents of most of the world's theistic faiths. Inner Listening is usually interpreted as "listening to God," and can be facilitated by methods such as Lectio Divina or Imaginative Prayer. This form of spirituality is perhaps most associated with the Quakers.
The Religious Society of Friends, more commonly called The Quakers, are a Christian sect stemming from religious revival in 17th Century England. This revival, led by George Fox, emphasized individual spiritual experience over conventional religious structures. Specifically, faith is placed in the leading of what is commonly called the "Inner Light."
Quakerism was, and is, a diverse religious movement and includes branches which affirm traditional Christian theology as well as branches which do not promote any doctrinal beliefs. Individual Quaker congregations also often display this diversity, and commonly contain members who approach the faith from widely different theological, or perhaps non-theological, perspectives. The common tie that unites those within this movement is a commitment to the practice of Quaker worship.
In traditional Quaker worship, the group gathers and simply sits together in silence, awaiting the guidance of the "Inner Light." Most often, the Inner Light is experienced privately and is often spoken of as speaking to one's unique situation. Occasionally, these long periods of silence are broken by a congregant who feels led to share a message with the group. This action, again, is seen as being directed by the Inner Light, which is shared by each worshiper.
A modern service typically lasts one hour, though gatherings may have lasted up to three hours in the 17th Century.
Interpretation of The Inner Light
The concept of the Inner Light, which worshipers "listen to" during worship, is interpreted in a variety of ways within the faith. Probably the most common way that the Inner Light is discussed is through theological language. Terms used to refer to the Inner Light include "that of God" which is in everyone, "God within," the "seed of God," and the "light of Christ" (for those who hold conventionally Christian beliefs).
Others may not use theological language when describing this Inner Voice, and may conceptualize it as one's Deepest Self. There is no official Quaker interpretation of what happens during worship; the uniting factor is the practice itself.
Communal Decision Making
One other unique practice within Quakerism which stems from the practice of Quaker worship is communal decision making. When Quaker groups make decisions which affect the group, they typically will not move forward without the consensus of the entire congregation. Business meetings are conducted in a prayerful way and often begin with formal worship. In this way, trust in the personal leading of the Inner Light flows into trust in the communal leading of the Inner Light. If there are significant dissenting voices, it is often interpreted as a sign that more discernment is required. Final decisions are usually delayed until consensus is achieved.