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The Art of Conversation

June 1, 2020 by Beth A. Richardson

Months ago, when we selected the topic of “conversation” for this issue of From the Center, we were living in a different world. As I write these words, many of us have been sheltering at home since March. Our communities and patterns of conversation have been drastically reshaped. We can no longer meet a friend for lunch or linger after a gathering to get caught up on the latest news. Our conversations are held in Zoom windows, over the phone, in email, and six feet apart. What does “conversation” mean to us in this time of social distancing? 

Dorotheus of Gaza, one of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, said that as we move closer to God, we move closer to each other. As I have navigated this period of forced solitude, I have found myself hungering for conversation with the Holy One. Somehow, it seems that it has been easier for me to take time each day to light a candle, to quiet my busy mind in meditation and prayer, and to take time for the practices that feed and nurture me. I am wondering if this might be true for you as well? 

During the last six weeks, over 800 of us have participated in an eCourse based on the book by Daniel Wolpert, Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices. In twice-weekly live Zoom sessions, we have gathered together to experience several of these practices. It has been powerful and moving to experience shared conversation with God through silence, centering prayer, lectio divina, and other spiritual practices. I have found that it seemed easier for me to focus, to immerse myself in God’s presence, because I was praying together with others.

Even as I am experiencing depth of connection in the eCourse, I also witness disconnection, tension, and animosity in our communities. In recent weeks here in the United States, we have seen our political polarization re-emerge related to COVID-19. As we move toward the presidential election in the fall, it seems that our conversations have become ever more volatile and fragile. When we succumb to this polarization, our communities are shaken, our relationships are jeopardized. I am wondering, what are the conversations to which we are being called in this difficult time?

Perhaps it is time to renew our commitment to the art of conversation – both with God and with each other. May we continue to cultivate relationships in whatever way that we can. May we lean in and listen to the story of another. Even through our distancing and virtual contact, may we honor the space between us, recognizing the beloved in each person, whether we agree or disagree. 

Sit down with God for a cup of tea, and share the prayers of your heart, the tears of your brokenness. Sit down with a friend on Facetime, Zoom, or over the phone, and listen to the words and the silence between the words. As we grow closer to God, we move toward each other. As we grow closer to each other, we move toward God. May it be so.

Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel.

This article first appeared in From the Center, a monthly email newsletter from The Upper Room curated specifically for clergy and church leadership. Subscribe to From the Center here

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