Laura J McDonald photography | The Art of Conversation

The Art of Conversation

February 26, 2016  •  3 Comments

"If you'd like to identify a person, don't ask them what they do or like to eat or where they live or have studied. Ask them instead what they're living for, what they crave to read and learn about, what is the drive that keeps them going, or what calls to them most when they're close to their edge or just before they slip into sleep." — Victoria Erikson

I've spent the first two weeks of Lent on an atypical journey - the road to Emmaus. Atypical because we usually associate Lent with the desert, with sacrifice and barrenness, spirituality basically stripped down to its core (much like the sanctuary during this season with its twigs in lieu of flowers and somber music). Equally unusual because a post-resurrection reading is not customary Lenten material, but it just so happens that Luke 24:13-32 was where my Abide study landed as our Lenten journey began. So I've been walking and praying with these two followers of Jesus along the seven-mile dusty road, pondering what their conversation must have entailed, and simply cherishing the value of conversation in general. It has been fruitful and lush, in a dead-of-winter sorta way.

I don't know about you, but I really love a good heart-to-heart — over lunch with a girlfriend; sunk deep into my couch cushions with a fuzzy blanket, glass of wine and my husband; out on a trail run with my sister (although she does more talking and I mostly gasp for air/listen). For me there's nothing like connecting with somebody one-on-one. The more the merrier? Not in my book. I'm not ANTI-social; just your classic INFP (Google it). My energy is depleted in large group settings, and restored after personal encounter. So within this context, consider my latest retreat experience . . .

This past weekend I escaped (along with 80 other women) to the North Georgia mountains to attend a retreat given by two of my favorite priests. The "agenda" included silence from 9:00 a.m. Saturday to 9:00 a.m. Sunday. Yes, that's right. Eighty women (plus a bevy of stray cats, no lie), silent for 24 hours (your LOL is highly appropriate). I understood the intent behind it when I signed up — get away from the literal and figurative noise of daily life and afford yourself the opportunity to really hear from God. Check. I'm all in. What I failed to consider was the absurdity of sitting elbow-to-elbow with friends and strangers over a meal in SILENCE. For me, it was the ultimate in uncomfortable — think middle-school-cafeteria-kind-of-awkward. You stand (sheepishly grinning) in the buffet line avoiding eye contact, take your meal to the table and open a book so you don't have to acknowledge the human across from you, reinforcing all the negative behaviors we work to extinguish from our nightly dinner tables at home ("put your phone away and engage please"). Not to mention becoming hyper aware of ALL the clanking of dishes and chewing of food and doe-si-doeing around each other trying (in silent desperation) to obtain your morning coffee or lunchtime Diet Coke. Just plain weird. ​ Make no mistake, I am NOT discounting the value of silence (or this blessed retreat), especially when it comes to listening for God's voice. I embrace silence. I'm certain we could all benefit from more of it. But in light of my time spent considering the mysteries of Luke 24, the wordless meals seemed untimely, even slightly ironic. If you recall, the two followers of Jesus encounter him on the road to Emmaus, but fail to recognize who He is. In fact, verse 16 says, "they were kept from recognizing him." So Jesus walks along with them until dark, explaining all that had been written about him in the Scriptures (while they remain clueless). It is only when they reach their destination, invite their traveling companion to stay, and He breaks bread with them, that they are "allowed to recognize Jesus" (v.31). I've often imagined this to be one of those sunbeams-from-heaven, angelic-choirs-singing kind of lightbulb moments. But perhaps it was more like one of those crying with your friend over their impending divorce moments. Or leaning in to the hard questions to get to the root of a tough issue with your child moments. Or rejoicing with a catch in your throat as your stoic dad shares happy news with you moments. Recognition, true recognition, of another comes in the sharing of brokenness, in the courage to be vulnerable and fully present, in the meeting of needs, in the art of engaging conversation. In my simple mind and heart, mealtime = fellowship, which includes WORDS. Thus my angst. Sometimes angst can be a catalyst for insight.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown says, "If connection is the energy that surges between people, we have to remember that those surges must travel in both directions." Good conversation involves give and take, intent listening, and a desire to learn. This is never more true than in prayer. Opening our retreat on Friday night, Father Josh announced his goal for the weekend — "I want to teach you how to REALLY pray." He carefully warned that if our conversation with God solely consists of "I want, I need, please help with . . ." then we will never get to know our Lord more intimately (and if we do all the talking with zero listening, well then, duh). He dove into the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius, encouraging us to not just read Scripture but truly enter into it, using our imaginations to place ourselves into the events of Christ's life. He spoke of "making memories with Jesus," which I found beautifully enlightening. Father Michael spoke eloquently and passionately about the Eucharist - no coincidence I'm sure. The parallels to Luke 24 are worthy of an entire separate blogpost. Maybe next month?

A few of the probing questions from the Luke 24 chapter in Abide include: "What is it that blocks my heart? What prevents me from seeing? What are the obstacles in my life that serve to extinguish my moments of recognition?" Go ahead and discuss those with God at your leisure (*wink*). I feel compelled to answer the questions posed in the quotation at the beginning of this post: What am I living for? an ever-deepening relationship with God (with the ultimate goal of heaven). What do I crave to read? The Artisan Soul by Erwin Raphael McManus. What do I desire to learn more about? the intricate workings of my camera. What is the drive that keeps me going? creativity, in its countless forms. What calls to me most when I'm close to my edge? my conscience. What calls to me just before I slip into sleep? my flannel sheets.

Wishing I could sit with you over a cup of coffee or glass of wine and hear your answers. If you feel compelled, include them in the comments section below. I pray God's tangible presence over the rest of your Lenten journey. Thanks for walking with me a step or two.

Just in case you're new here, a footnote: Abide - Keeping Vigil with the Word of God by Macrina Wiederkehr was introduced in my January post. Go back and check it out if you're curious. And thanks for visiting!


Mary Lockrow(non-registered)
This is beautiful Laura! What an incredible lenton journey! What am I living for? Agape love where I'm loved and protected. And to love my neighbors as myself! Easy to love others....! What am I reading? Fates and furies....a very poetic book about the comedy and tragedies of marriage..think Shakespeare! Our lives can mimic both but if love is the always wins! The drive that keeps me going? People..... Making others happy! What calls to me when I'm drowning.... Home which is my heart where God helps me pull out peace amidst chaos....and tells the mind to abort ship! What calls to me before I fall aeep? Either gratitude or helpline prayer knowing God will take care of it all.... Letting go
Karen Stacy(non-registered)
What am I living for? To love and be loved...What do I crave to read? Richard Rohrs Daily Reading and The Language of Letting Go Daily Reading...What do I desire to learn more about? Myself and others...What is the drive that keeps me going? Oh, wow...probably lots of different things as different times, but maybe at their core loving and being loved.... What calls to me most when I'm closest to my edge? Time with God alone on my sitting room couch...What calls to me just before I slip into sleep? The thought of my cup of coffee and my daily readings in the morning. :)
Leslie Albizzatti(non-registered)
What am I living for - my heart fully united with His. What do I crave to read - will have to think about this. What do I desire to learn about -how my soul can ascend to be completely in Him and with Him and yet still be present in the world. What is the drive that keeps me going - my family and bringing God's healing to women. What calls me most when I am close to my edge - Jesus. He re-centers me. What calls me just before I slip into sleep - the comfort of my pillow, the security of knowing my husband is next to me, the peace that my children are well, and knowing tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every day; a clean slate.
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