The most basic thing human beings do together is communicate. Language helps form and maintain relationships. Jesus, in the scriptures, had deep conversations with his disciples, the Pharisees, sinners, and all those who approached him. Consider the intimate conversation with the woman at the well. This kind of spiritual conversation was very important to St. Ignatius’s mission in the Society of Jesus.
Ignatius specifically states in the Jesuit Constitutions that spiritual conversation is one of the apostolic works of the Society. This was primarily done through Confession and the Spiritual Exercises, but it was certainly not limited to that. Jesuits today reach all parts of the world and have the opportunity of engaging the people of God in spiritual conversation in many different ways. While meant to be an open door to evangelization and the Jesuit mission of “helping souls,” the call for spiritual conversation indicates Ignatius’s care for the whole person and desire to know them on a deeper level. With Jesus, conversion occurred when people had personal encounters with him through conversation. Jesus spent time with people, ate with them, chatted about matters of faith, and allowed friendships to form. After all, to be a person is to be in relationship.
But spiritual conversation is something for all people to engage in, not just Jesuits. I’ve recently begun ministry with undergraduate students, and among a few I’ve discovered a real desire for spiritual conversation. They seek deep and meaningful conversation as a way to explore their spiritual lives. Spiritual conversation opens our hearts to the journey of another. It gives us the chance to be vulnerable in our sharing. It prompts us to ask questions and to build intimate friendships.
Ignatius gave guidelines to those engaging in spiritual conversation. Don’t take sides, he said. Be considerate and kind, listen so to understand well the other person, and then be slow to speak. And like anything else, our spiritual conversation should be about glorifying God. How often do we use this basic human tool in our faith lives? We’ve all heard of “idle talk” (like gossip), that which does no benefit to anyone, let alone glorify God. Spiritual conversation, on the other hand, is about adding a new dimension of relationship and intimacy to our spiritual lives.