Among the kindest gifts we can offer people is our deep listening. When someone is sharing their story, their feelings, their joy or their pain, being fully present is a precious gift.
On November 3rd, I was in North Dakota to stand with clergy from all over the country in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux as they continue their vigil to prevent the Dakota Access Pipe Line from coming through their land. Our witnessing took place on ND 1806, the north/south route that runs through the Standing Rock reservation. There, at one end of a bridge that has been the site of confrontation, we stood vigil. As we stood, many people shared stories, songs, prayers, and speeches.
One of the clergy who spoke was African American. She named the shared oppression of the First Nation people and the Africans who were brought to this country through the slave trade … both/all victims of the Doctrine of Discovery that destroyed countless lives, cultures, spirits, and land. After speaking, she led us all in singing “Wade in the Water” – a song that was profoundly appropriate for this occasion. “God’s gonna trouble the water…”
After listening to several other people share stories, blessings, and testimonials, I realized there were more people further on the bridge. When I walked up I could hear the sound of chanting and drums. I stood behind the Native men who held a security line on the bridge to prevent people from going too far on the bridge and possibly antagonizing the law enforcement personnel on the other side.
A group of Native men stood about 25 feet from the security line chanting. Among these men was a white man in a Navy uniform holding a flag pole with an American flag hanging upside down. This was a bold act of protest and solidarity. Next to him was a Native man in an Army uniform. The other men were in civilian clothes, and all but the Navy man chanted song after song, and time seemed to stand still. At some point the men on the security line invited me and a few other clergy to stand between them and the men chanting.
I felt like I was listening with my whole being … with all my senses. I listened carefully, watching their faces, mostly serious and stoic, at times exchanging glances and smiles as they took turns with the call and response of the chants. I listened, not knowing what the words meant, but feeling the weight of words and tones that sounded like laments, declarations, blessings, and prayers. I listened under the bluest, widest sky I’ve ever known. I listened with the breeze on my face with the smell of sage wafting by. I listened with others, like me, who came to offer what little we could: the presence, and loving kindness, of our deep listening.