Deep Listening

Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, 2019
Intern Teleen Saunders 

Jeremiah 29:10-14

Grace and Peace to you on this blessed Thanksgiving Eve.

A few years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to head out east on a road trip with my mom and our oldest daughter.  It was a “ladies only” adventure where I was in charge of the wheel.  Only, here’s a little something about me.  I’m terrible with directions.  (I once went through a carwash backwards!) But I had my mom, and even more importantly, I had Siri giving me step by step directions from my smartphone.  So away we went to Niagara Falls, through the Finger Lakes region of New York, over to Manhattan, and finally to Massachusetts where we had the privilege of visiting Plymouth Rock.  Now according to legend, this was the exact spot where the first pilgrims set foot from the Mayflower in December of 1620.  Now we may not have crossed an ocean, but I was pretty happy to land there too considering the fact that I am directionally challenged.

A few miles down the road is Plymouth Plantation, the place where the pilgrims established their new colony building homes, planting crops, and establishing laws.  Today, visitors are able to tour the reconstructed site and learn about the first Thanksgiving.

Now, we often think of Thanksgiving in terms of food.  And certainly, food is part of our celebration even as we gather this evening for pie.  And food was even more important for the immigrants who depended upon the kindness of the Wampanoag people to literally save them from starvation.   But this first gathering was not only about the food.  By this time, the Pilgrims ate food on a regular basis.  And it wasn’t about the gathering.  They often gathered with representatives of the Wampanoag.  No, for these pilgrims this celebration was all about giving thanks.  It was a religious celebration and more than a religious celebration, it was a way of life.

You see, these colonists were true pilgrims by definition.  A pilgrim being someone who travels for the purpose of religion.  These people came to America in search of religious freedom.  They wanted to worship God in their own way.  And so, this celebration was an answer to prayer.

In our text this evening, God says, “When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”  Our loving God opens up relationships and initiates a pathway for communication by promising to listen.  What did these settlers want?  They wanted freedom.  They wanted to live and worship in a way that was meaningful and authentic for them.  God heard their prayers and God provided.  This is true Thanksgiving where our contact with God starts and ends in prayer.  God hears us because as verse 11 states, God cares about our welfare and wants to give us a future with hope.

This is a season of gathering for many people across many religions.  And often the people we gather with are quite different than us, not unlike that first Thanksgiving where food, religion, and politics varied greatly!  Even a language barrier could not stop that gathering though.  And it wasn’t just one meal and maybe some football!  The feast of 1621 continued for three days!  Can you imagine? They completely missed Black Friday.  So, I wonder what these new neighbors talked about when they sat around the table.  The best way to cook corn, the unpredictable weather, hunting and fishing, family relations, hopes, dreams, stories from the past? Whatever it was, for three days there was a lot of talking and a lot of listening in spite of differences in language.

But this is where God resides – in the divine dance of connecting with the other.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a spiritual leader, teacher, and peace activist who calls this practice “Deep Listening”.  He says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person…You listen with only one purpose:  to help him empty his heart.  Don’t interrupt…Don’t argue…Just listen with compassion.”[1]  And isn’t that what God does with us?

Jeremiah writes, “When you come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”  God isn’t hiding.  God isn’t ignoring us.  Just as God cares for the Israelites from our text.  Just as God cared for the pilgrims.  God cares for us today.  And God listens.  So, what is it that is on your mind right now?  What is it that you want God to hear?  Are you angry, scared, anxious, joyful?  Are you uncertain of the future?  Are you happy?  God wants to be in a relationship with you and God is listening.

God is also listening for our words of thanksgiving.  Now, as Lutherans, we understand God’s unconditional love and grace.  But this does not mean that God is indifferent to our thanks!  Feeling thankful is more than a state of being.  When we feel thankful, we recognize a gift and we recognize the giver as well!  We don’t’ just hold our thanks.  We give our thanks.  This puts us right back in relation with God.  As Christians, we understand that all that we have is a gift from God.  And because God wants us to have a future with hope (verse 11), God wants to hear our words of thanksgiving.  God is listening.

Now here is where faith meets life.  What if we too engaged in Deep Listening as a spiritual practice this holiday season?  What if we too were interested in establishing a deeper relationship with those around us.  What if when we encounter neighbors, friends, and family we put aside our prejudice, our distractions, and our own concerns to just listen?  Because even in the midst of all of the upcoming holiday hoopla, it’s the relationships we have with God and with each other that count.

So, what does deep listening look like?

  • Well it’s much more than listening to Siri give directions, but it might start on a road trip with three generations.
  • It might be a face to face conversation with a neighbor where the interaction goes beyond simple niceties.
  • It might be a random phone call, text, or email just checking up on a friend.
  • Or it might be time where you sit alone in silence listening for the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

Listening is Godly.  Theologian Paul Tillich says, “The first duty of love is to listen.”  And when we participate in deep listening, we too are forming connections and meeting the needs of the other with love and compassion.    So Augustana, let’s reach out with the gift of deep listening.  Let this be the true gift we bring to the table.  Just as the pilgrims and Wampanoag people did so long ago in a coming together for that first Thanksgiving.  And God will be listening.  Amen

[1] › spirit › oprah-talks-to-thich-nhat-hanh

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