By Beth A. Richardson
Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God.
—Dorotheus of Gaza (Sixth Century)
Conversation is core to our humanness. From our earliest moments on earth, we begin to communicate. Our infant cries and facial expressions evolve into words and signs that let our caregivers know our needs. At some point, we find that certain sounds — “mama,” “dada,” “nana,” “wawa” — have a special power to communicate. These words transform the relationship between children and families.
We go out into the world and learn to interact with people different from us. We come home in tears or sorrow at the cruelty of others. Our parents say to us, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And at some point, we learn that this adage is not true. Words do hurt, do cause harm, do injure tender hearts in significant ways.
We cannot survive without communities, and conversation is at the heart of these relationships. When our conversation becomes polarized, as it is in our world today, our communities are shaken, our fragile relationships are endangered.
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 write these words, the polarization and chaos in the world around me makes me feel that we are moving away from, rather than toward, each other and God. Our thoughts, our rhetoric, our conversations are filled with blaming rather than understanding, with hatred and fear rather than trust and love.
Perhaps it is time to renew our commitment to the art of conversation. To lean in and listen to the story of another. To sit in the presence of each other, honoring the space between us, recognizing the beloved in each person, whether we agree or disagree. To take a sabbath from the easy communication of texts and posts, emails and tweets, and to be present with each other.
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 or an enemy for a cup of coffee, 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.
From January/February Alive Now. Copyright © 2017 by The Upper Room. Purchase a copy of this issue on “Conversation” by calling 1.800.972.0433.