What is a spiritual conversation?
A spiritual conversation is an open discussion between equals in which participants meet each other where they are to acknowledge and discuss the forces that speak into their lives as they try to answer the question ‘Who am I?’
Beyond many of our conversations is a depth of personhood we often do not tap into. We monitor who we let into our lives and how far, and this means that sometimes, a person can go days without having a conversation more meaningful than “How’s work?” or “What do you want for supper?” Nevertheless, there is a part of each of us that asks for more; it searches for meaning.
Depending on who you are, you may search in different places. Scientists may search through a microscope. Artists may look for it at the end of a brushstroke. Lawyers may examine the ways we coexist and what it looks like when we get it wrong (and right). Psychologists may sift through the crevasses of the human brain itself. But no matter where we look, one thing remains the same: the search itself. And when we engage in that search for meaning together, we are entering into spiritual conversation.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, something that is spiritual “relate[s] to or affect[s] the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” It’s the step beyond what we experience into what these experiences mean for us and how they shape us. At its most basic level, spiritual questions—questions like “How do I want to be remembered?” and “What is right and wrong?” and “Where does my happiness come from?” and “What is my purpose?”—whittle themselves down to “Who am I?”
As Christians, we answer this question with the cover-all that is the phrase, “A child of God.” But as humans, the reality is that this still involves the whole self, a self that is an amalgamation of personal relationships, past experiences, physical needs, community dynamics and the search for meaning as the cherry on top.
Therefore, our spiritual conversations need to embrace that, too. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, their conversation speaks to all the parts of her life that have brought her to this well; it addresses her personal relationships with past husbands, her ancestry, her physical needs for water and food, her identity within the Samaritan community, and the spiritual customs of her contemporaries (John 4:4-26). The conversation addresses the reality of her whole personhood because it is understood that spirituality is interactive, and is itself in conversation with the other parts of ourselves. This means, too, that a spiritual conversation is a place where we are allowed to have—and express—doubts, and to have those doubts dealt with respectfully and honestly. This space is made for the Samaritan woman, and opens a deeper conversation about what worship looks like.
Spiritual conversations, then, seek more than answers; they seek realizations. They ask us to come to a place together, and to be open to coming away a little different than before. This is the type of conversation Jesus enters into with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He is there in their doubts and disappointments and misunderstandings, and he participates in the conversation as an equal, with questions that draw them further still into discussion. When Jesus prepares to leave them, instead they invite him into a deeper relationship: “stay with us” (Luke 24:13-35).
The third thing in common between these stories is shared also in the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch: spiritual conversations meet people where they are. For the Samaritan woman, that meant addressing her concerns regarding where and how to worship. For the disciples, that meant a discourse on current events that have changed the course of their lives and launched them into tumult. And for the eunuch, it looks like a textual clarification. Philip starts where the eunuch is, “with that very passage of Scripture” (Acts 8:26-40). In this way, spiritual conversations do not demand that its participants skip immediately to the conversations that we would like to have, because when we ask them to do so we do two things: the first is to assume that they understand the same information that we do (in the same way, using the same language), and the second is to eliminate the dynamic of equal participation.
Through these examples, we begin to see what a spiritual conversation is. It is an open discussion between equals in which participants meet each other where they are to acknowledge and discuss the forces that speak into their lives as they try to answer the question, “Who am I?”
A spiritual conversation does not tell you that Jesus is the answer. It asks you to start looking, and to keep looking, in the hope and trust that we will find Him together, over and over again.