When was the last time you had a conversation with real depth and meaning, a conversation that left your worldview broader, your heart stronger, or your step lighter? I love these conversations. Rather than regurgitating a litany of calendar appointments or the latest political annoyance, these conversations get to the heart of relationship.
In today’s political climate, even civil discourse is charged with tension. As soon as we meet someone, our antennas are up to try to figure out if the person is on “our side.” I don’t think a good spiritual conversation is about converting someone to our side, though. A good spiritual conversation in the Ignatian practice is about listening to the other:
- Listening for the fear and pain that are dominating our conversation partner’s life or the joys that are giving lift to that person’s spirit
- Listening not to convert, but to learn from the speaker
- Listening in humility for the message the speaker has for us rather than assuming we have a message for the other
We listen by giving the other a safe space to speak and acknowledging his or her dignity and value.
On our part, a good conversation is also about self-disclosure, sharing how we feel before jumping to what we think. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Communication consultant Christopher Reed talks about spiritual conversations as just one form of sacred conversation, which he defines as “human interactions designed to help participants involved become better versions of themselves.”
St. Ignatius was a master at these conversations. They were essential to the development of his own spirituality. While he directed his companions and many others through what we know now as the Spiritual Exercises, his reputation came from his everyday conversations with people. While spiritual direction and faith-sharing each have their own processes, spiritual conversations don’t need a formal structure or a set time or place. They just require us to show up, fully present to another, not focused on our agenda but on finding what is shared between us. They just require a place to start and trust that the Holy Spirit is present and will take it from there.
In the interest of advancing a few good spiritual conversations, here are my top ten ideas for spiritual conversation-starters.
- How’s your heart?
- Tell me your story.
- What is coming down the road for you?
- I need your advice on [personal or spiritual dilemma].
- Where do you hope to go from here?
- How are you feeling about all this?
- Have you ever felt…?
- What do you most need right now?
- What do you dream about these days?
- Do you feel ready for…?
Following up with, “Tell me more about that,” or, “Why do you think that is?” can continue these conversations late into the night. Note we never even have to say the word “God,” but we may find we quickly feel safe enough to ask, “So where is God in all this for you?”
As you go through this day, consider what your heart is telling you right now about having more spiritual conversations with others. Do you feel ready?