The Wonder of Everyday Spiritual Conversation

September 10th, 2015

The Wonder of Everyday Spiritual Conversation

Following on from last year’s community Listening Exercise, earlier in 2015 in our Hurtado Saturday morning reflections we spent most of the sessions thinking about Listening. How do we listen to God? How do we listen to each other? How do we listen to our Society? How do we listen to the many peoples, and cultures and faiths that we find around us here in Tower Hamlets?

We looked at different ways in which can pray – ways in which we can listen to God as God comes to meet us where we are, as God offers us an encounter in love. We talked to each other too, shared with each other what this had been like, what God had seemed like, or what God had seemed to be saying, or was wanting to say, to us. Probably we talked to God too. There were conversations.

Now, this autumn, we are talking about something known as Spiritual Conversation. Don’t be put off by the term – it is actually something very simple and not lofty – and something that for St Ignatius was immensely important.

In his autobiography we are told that Ignatius chose to ‘help souls’.  This was the phrase used by Ignatius for spiritual conversation. For him the ‘soul’ meant the whole person, and it was his principle tool for helping others. We are told that he chose to ‘help souls’ by speaking to others “in a friendly manner”, as one would chat in an after-dinner conversation “sometimes about one virtue, sometimes about another, always with praise.

This doesn’t sound too difficult, too lofty.  All of us chat in a friendly manner probably a lot. But let us look at how ‘talking’ becomes ‘conversation’ and then what transforms conversation into ‘spiritual conversation’. We are familiar with the phrase ‘it’s like talking to a brick wall’! The phrase makes it clear what conversation is not!

Conversation has two or more people involved, who take turns to speak, turns which may or may not be equal, but at any one time one talks, the other or others listen. You know what it is likely when you try to say something and someone talks on top of you!

Conversation can be quite ordinary, very interesting, kind, unkind, varied. Occasionally it may move into something that seems important, perhaps a serious experience of life, or values, meaning of life, or it may have a religious dimension. These kinds of conversations can happen between people who know each other well or between comparative strangers, or sometimes between complete strangers.

What, then, is Spiritual Conversation? Conversation is transformed into spiritual conversation when, in addition to the two participants in the conversation, there is an awareness of the presence of a third person, the Holy Spirit, by at least one of the participants. Ignatius had clear ideas as to converse in this manner – for example he said: “Be slow to speak………… be considerate and sympathetic towards others…….. be prepared to listen, while keeping silence yourself, so as to gain some sense of, and appreciation for, the positions, emotions, and desires of those who speak. Only then judge whether it is better to speak or keep silent…….Be open to both sides of a question………….. don’t be self-opinionated………….make the effort never to leave one side or the other discontented. Indeed be friendly with everyone…………..”.

The most basic thing human beings do together is communicate – maybe we can also say it is the most basic thing God does. God is a self communicating God, in other words God communicates Love, and being in the image of God this is the fundamental thing we do when things go well. So let’s make time to listen to one another and to seek to hear God’s voice in the midst of our everyday.

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