Spiritual Practices and Attitudes 11 - A Primary Conversation
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“I will be with you!” [Exodus 3:12] This is not only a promise, it is an expression of the very nature of God. To be God is to be with! Jesus enfleshes this same promise and the Divine Nature: “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).
We are made in the image and likeness of the One whose nature it is to be with. It is also our nature to be with. We are at our best when that “being with” is embraced generously and allowed to shape our lives. We thrive in constructive and life-giving relationships, we wither in the absence of such relationships. “Relationship is written into the very nature of human beings. As the Bible sees human beings, you cannot think about them, without recognizing that they are, as it were, made for relationship” (Aelred Squire, Asking the Fathers, SPCK, 1972, 20).
We find ourselves in the midst of four relationships. (1) All human beings are in relationship – consciously or unconsciously – with the Absolute, however we name it. For the Christian, the Absolute is revealed as the God of our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God of Jesus who is the Christ. In this primary relationship we find the living context for the other three relationships.
(2) All human beings are in relationship – consciously or unconsciously – with themselves. Concretely, this is the immediate focus from which all are other relationships take shape. As a general principle, we can say that as I relate with myself so I will relate with God, other people and the world at large. (3) All human beings are in relationship – consciously or unconsciously – with other human beings. (4) All human beings are in relationship – consciously or unconsciously – with the world at large. “Everything in the world is connected” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, #16).
In the light of the foregoing, here is a little exercise: Accompany yourself through your day as if you were your own best friend. This involves an internal conversation with three processes happening together: (1) Open questioning, (2) honest acknowledgement of what emerges and (3) non-judgmental response – “It’s okay!”
Open questions are questions you ask but do not answer! You simply listen! Start with the open question: What am I feeling at the moment? Acknowledge honestly, as best you can, what emerges. Be explicitly non-judgmental about what emerges. Say “It’s okay!” Then return to the open questioning: When did I last feel like this? Where in my body does it make itself felt? What events tend to evoke this feeling? What is it like? What other feelings are present? What thoughts accompany this feeling? Be imaginative and innovative about the open questions. Just do not answer – listen!
This open questioning allows you to keep the initiative. It leads to greater awareness and therefore greater freedom. It will allow you to make adult decisions. You will also find yourself face to face with the truth of your experience. Jesus identified himself with the truth. This little process can assist you to make of your daily experiences spiritual exercises for they become encounters with Jesus who is always there with you.
If you let your feelings take the initiative, one – or both – of two things will probably happen. You will enter into a destructive fight with yourself and/or your feelings will lead you to a bad decision.
Conversation is essentially an encounter in which we open ourselves to change, sometimes through speech. We can live our lives as conversation, intending every encounter with every person, event or thing as an opportunity for change and growth.