Thanksgiving, a Day to Listen
“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” Henri Nouwen, Henri Nouwen Society, Daily Meditation, excerpts from Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey.
As we gather today with family and friends, this is the perfect time to sit back and listen. Listening is at the heart of being a spiritual friend. Nouwen reminds us that it is not waiting our turn to talk. Instead, it is letting someone else know you are offering the gift of your attention and time to be present with them.
Some think it may be easier for introverts, but in reality, introverts may still be processing what they want to say in their minds while others are talking and only pseud-listening. Extroverts may have difficulty responding directly to what they are hearing, for they better process what they hear on the outside.
The answer is practice. This is an art form that must be practiced consciously every day until it becomes unconscious like brushing our teeth.
We have grown up in a multitask world where we learn to do multiple tasks at a time, eating while we work or watching television, working on several projects, multiple problems at a time, looking at emails, texting, or searching on our I phones while we are sitting down to meet with others. While someone is talking to us, our pattern becomes to think of how we are going to solve another problem as soon as we move on to the next project or meeting.
Living in the present and active listening are becoming lost arts. We must practice them intentionally. My experience is that making eye contact helps keep us focused on the person or people to whom we are listening. This enables us actively to “look for” the Christ visibly and invisibly within others that can only be most often revealed as we also begin to see the Christ within ourselves.
Listening is an art form and a gift. St. Benedict calls it “listening with the ear of our heart.”