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Deep Listening to God

We’ve talked about deep listening to ourselves – to our bodies, our emotions and our self-talk. It’s exceedingly helpful to know ourselves well so that when we open ourselves to listen to God, we don’t get psyched out by our egos, our needs and our desires.

Intentional, honest, open, listening to God takes us deeper than our needs and desires, deeper than our emotions. Listening to God is like listening to the underground river that flows through all things. It is like listening to the rays of the sun, or feeling the brush of air on our face when there is no breeze. It is not simply keeping our ears open, but keeping our souls open.

The trap that we’re liable to fall into when talking about “listening” to God, is believing that we only find God in the silence, and we only hear God in words. Hence the first scripture that came to mind was Psalm 46 which reminds us that our Beloved is always present during times of trouble and change. Even if nations are brought to ruin, "the Voice of the Almighty can be heard, melting hearts of stone." To hear, the psalmist tells us, we must “be still and know...”

Now, it may be true that God is easiest to hear in the silence. But if God is in all things at all times, then we can listen for God anywhere at any time.

This requires awareness, being fully present in the moment. Actually, this is the key to any truly deep listening. How will we hear God if we are worried about yesterday, or tomorrow? How will we hear God if we’re listening to too many other things? But, like the cricket in last week’s story… if we listen for God, we will hear God.

Another way to think of it is that you are holding space for God in the midst of whatever you are doing by being as fully present as possible.What might that look like for you? For me I picture myself with my hands open and ready to receive. I don’t actually have to be poised like this, but the mental image reminds me of my intention to go through my day open to the messages of the universe. Or, I think of God pulling up a chair and sitting with me while I work, or digging in the dirt with me when I garden, or sitting in the passenger seat of the car when I drive. That focuses me in a completely different way, to the sound underneath sound

Joan Chittester calls this type of listening contemplation, a “consciousness of living steeped in God, of being surrounded by God, of being directed by God, of being in the presence of God, of learning to see life through the eyes of God, of being aware of God’s love, action, and challenge.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, offers counsel in practicing presence by suggesting we attempt to be present in washing the dishes. If you are washing the dishes, be completely aware of washing the dishes.

Here’s the struggle. We’re not trained to be contemplative, to be open to the movement of the Spirit in every moment. We’re not trained to stop and be quiet, or simply be, be open to God when doing the most mundane, ordinary tasks like washing the dishes. We’re trained to do and keep doing. We’re trained to stay busy. After all, it is socially acceptable to be busy; it is not socially acceptable to stop for time to think, to pray, to listen, to contemplate. It’s also socially a little fishy to say you’re listening for God.

When Rabbi Gunther Plaut was young and serving a major congregation, he instructed his secretary that for the first four hours of every day she was to tell people who called, “The rabbi can’t speak with you now, he’s thinking.” I think this was his version of "holding space" for God.

Anyway, this caused a great deal of anger and controversy and finally reached the board of directors of the synagogue. They insisted that he be more responsive to his congregation and stop his secretary from saying such a thing. The next day he went to his study in the synagogue and told his secretary that for the first four hours of the day she was still not to pass him phone calls but to respond, “The rabbi can’t talk right now, he is busy.” The controversy calmed down and he enjoyed a long career in the synagogue.

Listening happens best when I am quiet and there is quiet around me and I can turn off my mind and focus. But listening can also happen anytime I am open enough for the Spirit to catch my attention. I was getting my teeth cleaned this week and lying in the chair and closing my eyes, I felt like my soul settled in to hold space for God. Unfortunately the hygienist talked to me, or I think I could have blissfully held space for God there in that chair getting my teeth cleaned! 

What does God sound like? What does it look like when God catches your attention? Perhaps it is patience when we want to rant. Or love when we're pushed to our limits. Perhaps God sounds like wonder in the beauty of nature when we've had a frustrating day. Or maybe God sounds like hope in the midst of despair and justice in the face of unfairness and inequity.

So, here's your homework for this week... listen for God, hold space for God (whatever that looks like for you), pay attention to the things that cause you to pause and give you a better perspective. Trust that God is with you sending you messges. Listen deeply.

Love & Light!