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I have to confess that I’ve never actually read Paul Tillich. I know that he’s the theologian who came up with the notion of God as the “ground of being.” And I also know that his ashes are interred in the Paul Tillich Park in New Harmony, Indiana (my home state). But I’ve never cracked open The Courage to Be or Dynamics of Faith or a single volume of his major three-volume work Systematic Theology. But that’s not going to keep me from quoting him. “All things and all men,” he says, “call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen, they want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being…. But we can give it to them only through the love that listens.” The love that listens. I like that. More on Listening in this small group ministry session based on resources from

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

For listening is the act of entering the skin of the other and wearing it for a time as if it were our own. Listening is the gateway to understanding.
— David Spangler in Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent



A Teaching Story from A Field Guide to the Soul: A Down-to-Earth Handbook of Spiritual Practice by James Thornton

Spiritual teacher James Thornton describes being at a retreat where he learned to be truly present to another person. He calls this practice deep listening.

For some years before the retreat, I was aware that the way I listened to other people was not what I wanted it to be. Though people regarded me as a good listener, I did not feel that I was. I felt unable to give the person who was speaking to me my undivided attention. While listening, I was working on my response. . . .

I was terribly tired of this way of speaking with others but had no real idea of how to go beyond it and become more spontaneous. The answer came at that picnic. When my friend spoke, I found myself staring into his eyes and just listening, as I had listened to the birds the entire week. Just listening. No thoughts of my own, just hearing the thoughts of my friend. There was a moment of panic. I thought, ‘He’s going to stop speaking any second now, and I’ve prepared nothing! I will have nothing ready to say!’

I let the panic go. I decided to see what would happen if I gave no thought at all to a response and just kept listening to my friend. As it happened, when he stopped speaking, I started speaking. I had no idea of what I would say, but I said something he accepted well enough.

From deep listening had come spontaneity, and it has stayed that way ever since.

Questions: Take a moment to assess how you listen: Who I Always Listen To. Who I Rarely Listen To. Who Listens To Me. Who I Want to Listen To Me. Practice listening deeply as each member of the group shares their insights into how they listen.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words: God speaks to us every day only we don’t know how to listen.
— Mahatma Gandhi quoted in In the Middle of This Road We Call Life by James W. Jones

To Practice This Thought: Be aware of how you listen to people; be conscious of just listening without thinking about what you might say in response.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Listening from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Listening.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

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