Last Sunday I got to tell a story about listening. The gist of the story was that Love/Truth/God is something that is always available to us if we stop and notice and listen. We experience this in the depth of our hearts, in relationship with others, through the gifts of nature, through stories, song and poetry and through the gathered community when people come together for service or worship. Each way to experience had a section of underlay all it’s own separated partially by popsicle sticks. After introducing each I said the refrain, “We practice listening. We listen with our whole selves”.
Listening seems simple enough, but, like meditation, it’s harder than it seems to truly listen. This is because it asks of us the same quality of presence that we use in meditation. There is a person here speaking. As soon as we start composing our response or associating about when that happened to us, we have ceased to be present. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of listening to another and missing what was just said as our attention wandered off to our own thoughts. We maybe even appeared to be listening, but we weren’t really there.
I know from my work as a Spiritual Director and from my experience with friends and family that truly being in a moment by moment listening presence is rare. When we find those rare people who can simply be with us, listening, to whatever comes, it is a profound gift. That moment requires receptivity and acceptance that isn’t found easily in daily life. Most of the time we listen to others and they listen to us in order to try to teach, help, fix, analyze and advise us. These interactions can be helpful, but how often are we allowed and offered the space to be exactly where, who and what we are in the moment?
And if we have such difficulty truly and deeply listening to each other, how can we listen to/for that Infinite Mystery we sometimes call God? Where is the presence of Love in our beloved community? Where is the presence of Truth in our sacred stories about people who have tried to live in faith and love? Where is God in the gifts of the natural world that touch us through our body? Where is the Mystery in our encounter with any other person, with our own deep heart? And how do we come close with that formless and unimaginable Beyond that always just is? When we start listening in any of these arena’s, when we come into awareness or silence to simply notice and look for Love/Truth/God, we start to find it everywhere.
When wondering together, many of our children decided the best and most important part of our story was the gathered community where we come and listen for God together. In our story, that special place of community is where we turn into God’s presence for each other and the world. I reminded them that our Spirit Play class IS the gathered community. They were amazed. It was beautiful for our children to understand that this story is our story too, right now. Our last question is always if there is anything we can take out of our story and still have all the story we need. This question is especially hard for this age group, but in this class, one child said the dividers between the ways we experience listening for God could be taken away. How wise, I thought. Yes, truly that could be taken away and we would still have all the story we need.
At the 9 o’clock service we came to the part of the Embracing Meditation when we are invited to offer aloud or hold in the silent sanctuary of our hearts, the names of those we want to hold in worship. The usual low mumble of voices faintly rose and one very loud clear voice saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch that. You’ll have to try again”, issuing from someone’s cell phone. Since listening was on my mind I wondered about this seeming random occurrence. Since the embracing meditation is usually the only place in our service where the whole gathered community is invited to use their individual voices I wondered how we are listening to each other in that moment, how we are listened to by the presence of God we embody for one another? I wonder today what it looks like in our lives to remove the barriers between our experience to make our encounter of Life seamless and focused on listening for the Love/Truth/God in each moment in everything. What if our personal practice, our worship, our family time, our commute, our activism, our teaching was all one experience of listening for Love/Truth/God and then speaking back into the world as the Presence of that Love/Truth/God? In our story when we stop to listen and connect with Love/Truth/God, we gain clarity on who to be, what to do and how to love. It starts in every moment. It starts now. We practice listening. We listen with our whole selves.