When was the last time you had a conversation with someone in which you felt heard? Really heard. When was the last time you were willing to share your below the surface self with someone? When was the last time you asked questions in a conversation, instead of just talking about yourself? When was the last time you were asked thoughtful, stimulating questions in a conversation? When was the last time you learned something new, something you didn't know about a friend or acquaintance during a conversation?
When was the last time you had a real conversation, instead of communicating in a text or an email?
Our congregation is engaging in a conversation campaign --one on one conversations in which we hope to get to know each other better, beyond the quick Sunday morning "how are you?" We are a community that interacts well in the greater community through social justice initiatives, and we are intentional about being inclusive and welcoming, but how well do we really know each other? If we were willing to speak with one another from our hearts and to share our concerns with one another, how would that change the culture of who we are and how we care for one another?
A number of us were asked to participate in this experiment and to attend a night of training. How interesting, I thought, that we need to be trained in the art of conversation! Basically, the training was a reminder to be curious and courageous. We were each given the names of five people in the congregation to contact and to invite them for an hour or so of conversation. "I would like to get to know you better." There was no hidden agenda, no connection to the congregation's capital campaign. Just talk.
We were encouraged to be the listener and questioner 30% of the time and to encourage our partner to talk 70% of the time, but sometimes the conversations I had were more 40-60%, since none of the people I contacted knew me, and I am a new member in the church. They seemed as eager to get to know me as I to know them. We shared the time. And each time was rich.
Each intentional encounter reminded me that wherever two or three are gathered, there God is as well. This was holy time, sacred time. In each case, we discovered something, beyond our church membership, we held in common --a part of our background or a person we each knew or something that mattered to us in a profound way. By listening with the eyes of our hearts, we found connection to each other, but, I think, in some unexpected way, we found greater understanding of ourselves as well. When we listen deeply, listen for what is not being said, as well as what is being shared, we learn about our own vulnerabilities, our own assumptions, and perhaps, the places where we judge or are stuck.
As a spiritual director, I am blessed to participate in deep conversations frequently. I have ongoing opportunities to explore the movement of God in the lives of those who choose to spend time in intimate conversation. Each time I meet with someone who willingly opens her heart, I become more aware of how Spirit is moving in my own life as well. My directees are intentional about enhancing their spiritual lives and their relationship with God, however they define God, the Sacred the Holy, and it is a privilege to share Presence with them. Spiritual direction is a wondrous opportunity and a worthy spiritual practice, but we each have opportunities to be present to each other every day.
We each have a story. We each are creating and living our story every day of our lives. We each are more than what we appear on the surface. We each have the need to be heard, to be known. We each hunger in our own way for connection, heartfelt connection. And we each have the ability to offer that to others. That can happen if we are willing to stop and take a deep breath, look in someone's eyes and in a quiet, but clear voice, open to being present to another.
None of us participating in this one on one initiative at our church knows what the results of this practice will be. We hope it will lead to a more caring community, but for now we are simply and without forming a new committee or board or raising money or writing a grant or voting on guidelines, inviting people to engage in conversation. Listen and learn. Ask and receive.
Where are there opportunities in your life to engage in conversation beyond the basics, the obvious facts? Who in your life is waiting for a chance to share what is in their hearts, even if they aren't fully aware of that need? Are you willing to take a risk with someone you may see everyday, but don't really know? I would love to know what happens when you open your heart in this way?
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St Paul http://www.gloriadeistpaul.org
If the spiritual direction process interests you, please contact me and I would be happy to explore that possibility with you.